Student Loans

Try telling a recent college grad to think critically before applying to law school. Just try to do it. It won’t be long before the young person you are trying to help gets inappropriately angry and shouts, “Well what AM I supposed to do, you fat f**k? Seriously oh wise internet blogger, what the hell am I supposed to do, work at Barnes & Noble? Oh wait, they’re not hiring, a$$hole.”

Yeah, recent college grads tend to act like going to law school (or some other professional school or post-graduate degree program) is their only option in a market that doesn’t have enough jobs. Citing the results of a recent poll taken by Twentysomething Inc., Time reports that 85% of 2011 college graduates are expected to move back in with their parents. (Gavel bang: BL1Y.)

Honestly guys, this is how riots start. Unemployed adults living in forced infancy without enough money to start a family of their own. That’s the tinder that has brought down pretty much every society ever.

The report reiterates what we already know: people are turning to professional school to wait out this terrible job market.

In the face of these numbers… well, I still think that people going to law school simply in response to a difficult job market are making a terrible and ruinous choice. Here’s why….

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We know that tuition keeps going up at American law schools. And, for the most part, we know where the money goes. Law schools use tuition money and alumni donations to fund capital projects and law professor salaries. And, at some schools, the law school kicks back some money to the larger university. Law schools are cash cows, and everybody likes money.

Who is to blame for this? It’s hard to say. I tend to blame the American Bar Association, since the ABA is one of the few entities with regulatory authority over legal education (some law students are trying to get the Department of Education involved).

If the ABA will not act, it’s only natural for people to make as much money as possible, with reckless disregard to who gets trampled along the way. But one can find other culprits if you look hard enough. You could blame law school administrators, who are more concerned with money than education. You could blame the students themselves, for willingly forking over all of this cash. You could blame the federal government, for seemingly giving away money without making sure the taxpayers are getting a return on their investment.

But you know who you shouldn’t blame? Law school faculty. That’s right — they might get fancy new buildings and make six-figure salaries, but it’s not really their fault that the cost of a legal education has outstripped its value.

Who among us would not take more money and more perks for doing our same job?

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Fed up with the slow movement towards law school transparency, several law school student body presidents are appealing to a higher power. They’ve proposed legislation that would require law schools to engage in some honest reporting practices, under the oversight of the Department of Education.

If the American Bar Association is too weak or too unwilling to act, these students are hoping the DOE will take into account the best interests of students. Arne Duncan, if you are listening, every law student in America could use your help.

The movement seems to be spearheaded by Nate Burris, the student president at Boston College Law School. But 55 other SBA presidents have signed on, representing law schools in 27 states.

We already know that the legal educators don’t give a damn about the changes their students would like to see, but is there any chance law makers or the DOE will take a look?

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Breaking news: law school is expensive. Really, really expensive. Much more expensive than it used to be.

Are there still people out there who don’t know that? I mean, we’re certainly at the point where you don’t deserve sympathy if you go to law school without understanding the financial ramifications of your decision. The truth is out there, people.

And the truth hurts. The Hartford Business Journal (gavel bang: ABA Journal) reports that law school debt has reached a beyond ridiculous, all-time high…

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After the 1L money runs out....

That’s the question essentially posed in a long and interesting New York Times article, Law Students Lose the Grant Game as Schools Win (which we previously mentioned on Saturday; yes, we do post on weekends). The piece is by David Segal, who also wrote a big and buzzy piece back in January, Is Law School a Losing Game?

Segal’s latest article is more interesting than the January one. His January piece, while well-crafted and solidly (if imperfectly) reported, covered ground that had already been covered by many other outlets. Readers of Above the Law, other legal industry publications, or the numerous “scamblogs” already knew that the value proposition of going to law school was very much open to question (to put it mildly).

This weekend’s piece focuses on a less familiar aspect of the law school process, namely, merit scholarships. You might think that these grants, which help law students pay for their education in an age of ever-growing debt loads and skyrocketing tuition, are undoubtedly a good thing.

Well, think again….

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By the middle of second semester of that first year, everyone saw the system for what it was. We were furious. We realized that statistically, because of the curve, there was no way for many of us to keep our scholarships. But at that point, you’re a year in. They’ve got you. You feel stuck.

Alexandra Leumer, a 2009 graduate of Golden Gate University School of Law, quoted in an interesting and provocative New York Times article suggesting that law school “merit scholarships” can be a bit of a scam unfair in the eyes of some recipients, due to the fact that so many students lose them after their 1L year by not achieving the required GPA.

(We’ll probably have more to say about this piece, entitled Law Students Lose the Grant Game as Schools Win, on Monday — but in the meantime, feel free to discuss it in the comments.)

I graduated from Northwestern Law in 2009. It is now 2011, my loans are coming due (real due — not the fake, put ‘em in forebearance, due of yesteryear), and I am currently “employed” doing two things: reviewing documents at an embarrassing hourly wage on projects that start and stop without any sort of consistency, and writing “jokes” about the Microsoft Zune every weekday morning, every other week. To borrow from David Foster Wallace, this is water.

And so it is with a sick sort of pleasure that I read Professor Paul Campos’s very interesting piece on The New Republic website yesterday. Coupled with Elie’s post on the Biglaw bloodletting, the article tells me what I’ve wanted to know and, in fact, what I’ve been telling my mom for two years now. Namely, that MJ was right. I am not alone.

What is the true state of unemployment for law school graduates? Professor Campos has crunched some numbers….

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People think that I believe that nobody should go to law school ever, and that anybody who is currently in law school should drop out immediately. And, to be fair, I do think that many people in law school today have made terrible personal and financial decisions and have entered a world of pain that they will dwell in for much of the rest of their lives.

But I don’t think that every person in law school is there idiotically. I don’t think everybody who is there should drop out of school at the earliest available opportunity. I don’t even think you need a special “love of the law” to justify three years of legal education. The internet is not a great medium for nuance, but on a case-by-case basis there are a lot of situations where a person might be smart to go to law school and/or smart to stay in law school.

Take this one kid who emailed Above the Law asking for advice on whether or not he should drop out after his 1L year. I bet he’s going to be surprised that I’m of the opinion that he should stay in school…

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It’s actually worse than a bad mortgage…. You have to get rid of the future you wanted to pay off all the debt from the fancy school that was supposed to give you that future.

Peter Thiel, the billionaire entrepreneur, encouraging kids to drop out of school rather than go deeper into debt for education.

Incoming summer associates, would you donate one day of your summer salary to help other students at your school who did not get summer jobs? Would you donate that money for a pro bono or public interest cause? Would you donate that money so your law school could fund the pro bono interests of other students?

Or am I giving you a false choice? Is it offensive to suggest that your law school needs one cent of your hard-won salary to fund public interest programs that should be covered by your tuition?

These are the questions facing students at one law school, thanks to an interesting donation request from the school’s administration. This isn’t a public interest auction like you’ll see at many law schools, where students with extra cash can bid on items, and auction proceeds are used to fund public interest fellowships. Rather, this is a direct request for a redistribution of income.

And I’m not sure if this is laudable or monstrous…

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