Student Debts

This is some quality dissembling. Dean William Treanor of Georgetown Law decided to enter the fray by responding to the New America Foundation report that I wrote about last week that claimed that Georgetown Law was using a loophole to use its public service debt repayment program to profit off the federal government. By way of recap, the school agrees to pay off the income-based payments of its students in the federal income-based repayment plan itself, then raises tuition for the next crop of students and uses that money to pay off their payments later, creating a big circle where tuition is artificially (if only marginally) inflated and taxpayers pick up the tab and the school pockets the profit.

Dean Treanor’s response attempts to deflect the criticism, but the article misses the entire point of the controversy.

What’s the important life lesson that Dean Treanor learned from Patches O’Houlihan? Oh right: Dodge, Duck, Dip, Dive.

And Dodge….

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You might remember Matt Taibbi from such hits as “F@$% Goldman Sachs” and “Wall Street Trades Soylent Green.” He is a blistering critic of… everything.

In an upcoming Rolling Stone article, Taibbi has turned his withering gaze to the student loan industry. He criticizes Democrats, Republicans, and President Obama. Taibbi points out Obama’s hypocrisy on the student loan issue, something that I’ve been doing since 2009, but on this issue, the more the merrier.

While Taibbi’s article focuses on the crisis as it applies to college students, he can’t help but include some examples from the legal industry. I think that’s because no matter how much colleges and universities take advantage of college kids, law schools are worse….

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There’s been a lot of talk recently about the value of a law degree, and whether or not it’s actually worth a million dollars, degrees from some law schools are obviously worth more than others. Let’s be real for a moment here: If you’re taking out six figures of debt just for the privilege of attending, your starting salary damn well better be somewhere near the same amount, otherwise you’re going to be underwater for most of, if not all of, your adult life after law school.

Living with debt is scary, and if you want to have a better chance of being able to comfortably do all of the things you thought you’d be able to after getting a law degree, things like owning a home and having a child, you need to choose your law school wisely. You can start evaluating your options — or giving yourself a pat on the back — by checking out the latest U.S. News rankings for the 10 law schools with the biggest return on investment.

Which schools made the list? Not all of them are in the T14, so you may be surprised…

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As mentioned in Non-Sequiturs last week, this story is why we can’t have nice things. Specifically, why lawyers make it so we can’t have nice things.

On Friday, the Washington Post reported that Georgetown Law had worked out how to bilk the federal government into fully paying for some its students’ tuition and managed to create a profit for itself on the side. This is caused a bit of a stir Friday afternoon, but unfortunately the practice is neither new nor limited to Georgetown.

Though some tactics Georgetown employs may go beyond what any other school has the gall to attempt….

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The ABA Task Force on the Future of Legal Education released a 34-page draft report today about its findings. Essentially, the document says, “Wow, the scam blogs were totally right, we suck.”

Just kidding. I mean, it does finally get to the point of identifying a problem with legal education that law school reformers have been screaming about for years. But, in the immortal words of Sam Seaborn, “Let’s forget the fact that you’re coming a little late to the party and embrace the fact that you showed up at all.”

The top-line findings of the ABA draft report hit on pretty much all of the problems with legal education. But it’s still an open question whether the ABA will actually do anything about this report. I’ll tell you what I find out while I’m at their annual meeting next week, assuming I make it back alive…

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People ask me all the time, “Should I go to law school?” And I say “no,” and stare at them as if they just asked me if they should douse themselves with gasoline and light themselves on fire. Then they tell me all the things they’ve done to research their decisions — which invariably devolves into a discussion about whether they should be dousing themselves with premium or regular unleaded gasoline (or diesel if I’m talking to somebody who wants to go to Cooley). Then I say “please, don’t go,” and then I look away because I don’t want to be around when they light the match.

Everybody has their own specific situation, and I think that when people are trying to talk themselves into going to law school, especially a low-ranked or poorly regarded law school, they get very invested in the unique particularities of their situation. “Oh, I know it’s a bad idea for [everybody else], but I’m [a special snowflake] and it makes a lot of sense for me.”

Not everybody can get into Yale, or Duke, or Berkeley. I understand that. Therefore, as a public service, let me tell you how to choose an unheralded school in a way that makes sense. Or at least how to do it in a way that isn’t ridiculously dumb. If you are really thinking of going to a lower-ranking law school (and I’ll let the community determine what “lower-ranking” means), here is a checklist of five things you should do before you decide to roll the dice….

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A law professor’s reaction to the post-graduate employment market.

You learn a lot about people and institutions when they are desperate. You learn a lot about people by the way they respond to adversity. You learn a lot about people when they are backed into a corner, staring into an abyss, as the walls are crumbling around them. Some people rise to the occasion: England during the blitz, Ali in the jungle, that one time I needed to do a shot at the Cancun airport to complete my “100 drinks during Spring Break” pledge.

When faced with real adversity, most people, most of the time, soil themselves and end up a bloviating mess of hypocrisy and protectionism: McCain picking Palin, The French, me begging for a ‘C’ in French even though my wife did all my homework.

I think the vanguard of the American legal academy has reached that sad, embarrassing stage where they are willing to say anything, to anybody, in a desperate attempt to prop up the notion that law school is a good idea. Today we’ve got video of a guy, an associate dean, “defending” the current system of legal education with a full assault on reason.

And I think it’s sad. A people should know when they’re beaten. Instead of fighting for an old way that hurts students, you just wish people like this could seize this opportunity to talk about a new system that isn’t based on taking advantage of people. Instead, it’s just another law professor who is still hoping that prospective law students are “too stupid” to understand math and logic…

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To accompany Noam Scheiber’s big article on Biglaw — which I discussed yesterday, and Anonymous Partner analyzed this morning — the New Republic asked six prominent observers of the legal profession (including yours truly) for their ideas on how to fix law school. For all of the blame that Biglaw gets for the profession’s problems, some of the difficulties can be traced back to the legal academy and how it teaches and trains lawyers (or fails to do so).

Let’s check out the various reform proposals. Which ones do you agree with?

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Last week, we focused a lot on a controversial study about the economic value of going to law school. Today, I want to look at some more useful approaches to the question.

Looking at the lifetime earnings of of J.D. holders compared to people with undergraduate-only education based on historical data about J.D. earnings couldn’t have less to do with the current decisions facing prospective law students. Prospective law students are looking at a shifting market for legal employment, and they are dealing with skyrocketing tuition. Are there any studies that are looking at the economic value for them?

In fact, there are… and while the outlook doesn’t paint the rosy picture some law professors seem really invested in, there are rational arguments available for those who want to convince people to go to law school…

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I see debt relief, just over that hill.

Any time the punishment for going to your law school involves a graduate essentially “taking the black” and joining the U.S. Army to escape his crushing debt burdens, you have to be really proud of the value offered by your institution.

The quote from University of St. Thomas Law School graduate Thomas McGregor neatly sums up everything that recent law graduates are facing in this legal economy: “I paid off $108,000 of law school loan debt. All I had to do was put my life on the line.”

Parents, take note of such stories the next time you pressure your kids to go to law school and “get a real job”…

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