Bad Ideas

Law school can ruin your life if you are not careful. It’s very expensive and the rewards are far from guaranteed. And even if you reap those rewards, you might not like what you’ve become.

But if you do everything wrong, law school becomes just a tragicomic microcosm of poor planning and bad luck.

Forbes has an article up about a woman who is $350,000 in debt and living at the poverty line. Oh, but she has a law degree, and people who haven’t been paying attention are surprised by that…

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Qui Tam: Swag

Law firm swag. Ubiquitous and occasionally useful. Years later I still use a slim thermos that fits in my bike bottle holder, though the firm’s logo has long since worn off. But, I mean, who wants law firm branded stuff anyway?  Maybe a Wachtell tie might be nice, or a Slaughter & May pencil sharpener, but really, the market outside then-current employees is virtually non-existent. Meaning swag is usually a relatively harmless exercise in self-indulgent corporate team building. Usually….

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For months, we talked to counsel about our prospects in the case. He was sanguine:

“There’s nothing to worry about here. The plaintiff put a huge number in its prayer for relief, but you can’t possibly lose that much. Plaintiff’s liability case is thin, and the damages are inflated. You’ll probably win. If you lose, you’d lose no more than $1 million on an average day. On the worst day known to man, you can’t even theoretically lose more than $5 million. I wouldn’t offer more than a couple hundred grand to settle.”

A few months before trial, we ask counsel to put some skin in the game: “It’ll be expensive to try this case, and you feel good about our prospects. We’d like you to propose an alternative fee agreement that aligns your interests with ours. We’d like to pay you less than your ordinary hourly rates in the months leading up to trial, but we’ll give you a success fee if we win. Please think about it, and let us know if you have any ideas.”

A couple of weeks pass, as counsel discusses the case with his firm’s “senior management.” When the alternative fee proposal arrives, the goalposts have miraculously moved! In the course of just two uneventful weeks, our prospects for success have changed entirely!

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When starting out, solo practitioners have to find clients. The traditional way, through networking and advertising, will get mixed results. So some think outside the box and try to find new ways to get people’s attention. Some attorneys have fantasized about setting up a hybrid business combining law and something else.

Law practice can successfully complement other work because of overlap. It is not unusual to see attorney/CPAs practicing in the areas of tax, business, and finance. I have also seen estate planning attorneys double as financial planners. And I have seen too many real estate lawyers work as sales agents or brokers on the side.

But once in a while, someone proposes a business that tries to combine law practice with something that seems totally unrelated, such as clothing sales or a bakery (I know some attorneys who have actually proposed these). These ideas sound crazy and in most cases go no further than that. But a brave few have ran with it. And some are seriously considering it in light of the terrible job market.

While I don’t want to wish ill on someone who is legitimately trying to make a living and taking a risk, I think most legal hybrid business plans are not viable. Not to mention sounding silly. Click onwards to find out why…

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Jodi Arias

I do not believe it is in your best interest … I strongly urge you to reconsider.

– Judge Sherry Stephens, shortly before she granted Jodi Arias’s request to represent herself during the second penalty phase of her murder trial. In April 2013, Arias was convicted of murdering her ex-boyfriend.

When it comes to paying for law school, most of us fill out paperwork to secure shiny loans that haunt us for years to come. But there are a few students who think outside the box. Law school tuition Kickstarter campaigns crop up from time to time. There was also a website set up to sell future income streams in exchange for debt payments. Generally, these efforts to outsource student debt are the work of narcissists unwilling to take personal responsibility and pay for their life decisions.

And then we see something like this:

God asked me to go to Law School for the good of the Kingdom of God. Help me raise $28,500 by 5/1/15!

Well, that’s a horse of another color! It’s not that you want a law degree without having to suffer the consequences of your actions, it’s that God wants it. Nothing reflects the model of Jesus Christ more than getting what you want without suffering at all.

Let’s check out this plea for a free law school education — complete with its own movie trailer!

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Sophie Dalzell

If you’re not familiar with the illustrious modeling and performance work of Sophie Dalzell, the 20-year-old “star” of late-night adult TV, we can summarize it in just one word: boobs.

Alas, it seems the poor girl is now facing legal problems because of her huge assets…

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This will probably end badly.

I don’t know what kind of “logic” makes prospective law students think that they’ll all end up in the top five percent of their classes. But I’m pretty sure the same kind of fallacy arises when a male law school graduate thinks that two women want to take him home from a bar and make love to him at the same time.

Maybe it’s not a logical fault. Maybe it’s the old Achilles heel for lawyers; they’re bad at math. Just because something is possible doesn’t make it probable. What’s probable is that the two women intend to rob you (you know, just like most law schools)…

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One thing I’ve learned as I get older is that most people are incapable of learning from other people’s mistakes. It’s just not something humans are good at, I guess. If you see somebody jump off his roof and impale himself on a fence post, the human reaction seems to be “Wow, what a stupid place to put a fence post,” not, “I’M NEVER GOING TO JUMP OFF A ROOF.”

Everybody thinks that they can do it better. That impulse probably helped us go from stone tools to weapons of mass destruction, but it’s also what helps unaccredited law schools stay in business. Whatever, it all ends in radiation poisoning.

Which brings me to the story of a former student loan debt collector who heard countless stories from people drowning in debt with degrees that turned out to be useless. Armed with that information, she turned around and took out $40K to go to an unaccredited, online law school in California. I feel like I’m taking crazy pills…

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A new law school is finishing up its first year of operations. Unfortunately, there are 28 souls out there who don’t read Above the Law and ended up attending this new, unaccredited educational enterprise.

Of course, the new school had hoped to fleece educate 100 new students, not less than 30. The market might be a little more knowledgeable than the dean believed. In any event, the new dean of the new law school is stepping down. He’s not even staying on as a professor; he’s leaving to pursue “other employment opportunities.”

That makes sense. Being a dean of a new law school doesn’t look as bad on your résumé as being a graduate of a new law school….

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