Law Schools, Lawyer Advertising

That Time The Boston Bar Association Denounced Me

So I’m just sitting around with Elie when my phone informs me that I’ve been denounced by the Boston Bar Association. Apparently, they took offense to my post from a couple weeks ago about the new ad campaign by Suffolk Law. The headline was: This Law School Is Looking For The Dumbest Possible Students. Catchy right?

And I thought accurate because the ad tries to sell Suffolk Law on the grounds that it produced more Massachusetts state judges than Yale, Harvard, and Columbia. Which is such a no-brainer that anyone falling for it would have to be equally lacking.

Now the Boston Bar is cross with me. But their critique rests on such a profound misunderstanding of my point that I have to wonder if there’s just something in the dirty water up there…

Man, denounced by a bar association! This is a new honor for me. Sure, I’ve been criticized before. Sometimes by smart people, too. There’s the guy who desperately wants you to believe that going to law school will make you:

Slate’s Jordan Weissmann argued with me when I tweaked him about whether or not we should be shouting from the rooftops that people should go to law school while there’s still a lawyer glut. There’s the guy who likes making up s**t about ATL out of thin air. And of course there’s the unending pity party about how awful I am in the comments.

But a BAR ASSOCIATION! This is some new ground.

Well, isn’t that cute.

The underlying article is from Paul T. Dacier, the Executive VP and General Counsel of EMC, who took time as president of the Boston Bar Association to comment on my criticisms of the new Suffolk Law ads.

This is why we were so distressed to read an article in the law blog ‘Above the Law’ (ATL) denigrating both Suffolk Law School for a recent ad campaign and our Massachusetts state judges, who are mentioned in the campaign. The advertisement in question states that Suffolk Law School has produced more sitting Massachusetts state judges than several traditionally more prestigious law schools, such as Harvard and Yale, combined. ATL mocks the school for its pride in this achievement, suggesting that becoming a state judge is not a high honor. The vitriol in this editorial was a shock and made us think hard enough about the issue that we feel compelled to respond. Any attack on the judiciary is an attack on our society and the foundational structure of our government.

Ouch. What did that straw man ever do to you? The reason Suffolk’s ad is disingenuous and dumb is not because Massachusetts state judges are somehow “bad,” but because the ad rests on the fallacious comparison that it’s apples to apples to compare a Boston-based school with a regional focus to nationally focused law schools in New York and Connecticut when it comes to producing local judges. That Suffolk produces more state judges is neither good nor bad — Columbia grads just aren’t competing with Suffolk grads for those jobs because Columbia grads are working in, say, New York City.

While we understand that ATL is ultimately urging those thinking of law school to be wise consumers, we believe that there are opportunities for everyone in this country to pursue continued education and use it to transform their lives and achieve personal and professional excellence. Where you receive that education should not be the butt of disdain; those who seek to improve their minds in any capacity should rather be lauded for seeking growth and intellectual development. We feel we should not have to say this, but we firmly believe that what matters most is what you do with the degree you get. The stereotypes surrounding any school, regardless of whether they are positive or negative, may well be completely unfounded, and do not speak to the quality of its graduates or their capabilities.

It is certainly about encouraging wise consumers. But the stuff about discouraging stereotypes? I’m not stereotyping Suffolk Law grads to say that the school’s new ad campaign is clearly targeted to people incapable of simple logical reasoning. To that end, they are indeed looking for the dumbest possible students.

The other problem with this paragraph is the “where you receive that education should not be the butt of disdain” language. It sounds all noble, but it’s basically the same naive rhetoric people use to dismiss poverty as an issue: “It doesn’t matter where you start, anyone can make it!” Yeah, well I’m sorry to say it does matter. Sure they are going to be great lawyers from anywhere, but I understand I “woke up on third base” when NYU hand-held me from Washington Square to a prestigious Biglaw job — as it did almost everyone in my class. Meanwhile, Suffolk Law grads face an uphill battle to get any job. Sanctimonious language about treating all law schools as equal is just an apology for underperforming schools trapping people in debt with no coherent plan for getting their grads jobs.

And make no mistake, these ads are all about sweeping the debt issue under the rug. Let’s be honest, there probably aren’t a lot of students deciding between Yale, Harvard, Columbia, and Suffolk. But there ARE students looking at Suffolk and saying, why should I be on the hook for $255,308 for my degree when the best law school in the country is only $284,387? This ad’s purpose is to convince some gullible kid that the post-grad prospects at Suffolk Law are in the same discussion as those of Yale grads and therefore it’s OK that he or she is basically paying 90 percent of the cost of Yale for a 35.7 percent employment score.

Again, many of those Suffolk grads are bound for great careers, but taking a few anecdotal success stories and telling students with a 149 median on the LSAT that they’ll be just as well off investing in a legal education as T14 students with LSAT medians in the 170s — moreover, pretending its virtuous to ignore this difference — is simply sweeping serious issues in legal education under the rug. But it sounds nice.

The TL;DR is in the last paragraph.

So before you pass judgment too harshly, take a step back to think about whether we should be castigating a law school for trying to combat the declining law school application rates

Yes.

consider whether sweeping assumptions about the caliber of its students and graduates are required or even accurate

Didn’t call them dumb. Said the ad campaign is designed to appeal to dumb people. I guess if we find someone who enrolls next year and cites “so many more Massachusetts judges!” then I’ll make sweeping assumptions about them.

and remember the landmark decisions and advancements in the law that our state court judges have made because their judgment carries great weight

True. Totally not the point, but true.

We should not be spreading malice, but rather support for our brethren in the law.

How about “support” like slashing tuition if your grads can’t reasonably be expected to get jobs? Fighting for two-year law schools? Or fully-funded paid apprenticeships instead of the traditional third year? Doing something — anything — to give students the freedom to pursue lower-paying but underserved sectors of the justice system?

That’s a lot more supportive of fellow lawyers than suggesting that a school with poor employment scores is worth paying almost as much as Harvard to attend.

Dacier’s Take on…a Defense of Our State Judges

Earlier: This Law School Is Looking For The Dumbest Possible Students
The ATL Markup Of Slate’s ‘Apply To Law School Now!’ Article
Law School Is Not A Stock: It’s A Very Expensive Lotto Ticket
Teaching Brian Leiter About The Internet

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