Student Loans

William Brewer Jr.

Take it from those of us on the frontline of economic distress in America. This could very well be the next debt bomb for the U.S. economy.

William E. Brewer Jr., president of the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys, commenting on a new national survey of 860 bankruptcy lawyers. Surveyed lawyers expressed concern about the state of student debt in America, reporting that they are already seeing “what feels too much like what they saw before the foreclosure crisis crashed onto the national scene.”

Let's just say that my Google Image search for 'black prophet' was underwhelming.

* When the student debt bubble bursts and causes general economic ruin, I don’t want to be called a “prophet.” You may call me “messenger,” as in the sentence, “We’d like welcome the messenger, Elie Mystal, to the program. Tell us, seer, what it was like being so far ahead of the curve.” [Democrat and Chronicle]

* No one expects the Spanish Inquisition American Government. [The Atlantic]

* Here are some good apps for legal types, but I don’t see the one for models and bottles. [OnlineCollege]

* If you are writing a new Constitution would you really want to start by copying ours? Really? Really? Nothing of import has happened in the past 200 years that you wouldn’t at least want to reflect in your brand new governance document? [Recess Appointments]

* Upstate New York courthouse officers get the job done. [New York Law Journal]

* The Widener defamation suit was settled. [Philadelphia Inquirer]

* Who will be fined for MIA flipping the bird during halftime of the Super Bowl? I think the FCC should fine itself. It’s only by acting like shocked prudes every time a bare breast shows up that some no-name thinks she can make a big name for herself by giving the finger to nobody in particular. For the love of Christ, Adriana Lima offered me a goddamn blow job during the Super Bowl, but the FCC wants to react to the finger? [The Legal Blitz]

* Sonia Sotomayor couldn’t make time to attend the State of the Union, but you can find her on Sesame Street after the jump…

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Yesterday, my colleague Staci Zaretsky decided to make the case for why all the people who are dutifully paying off their law school debts should feel superior to those who default on their law school debts, or seek to discharge them through bankruptcy. As she wrote in her post, “Have I ever thought about filing for bankruptcy? Hell no. It might be hard, but I’m accepting responsibility for my actions. I’m paying back what I owe — slowly but surely, with not a single missed payment.”

Well, la, de, f***ing, da. It’s all well and good that Staci has never ever thought about availing herself of a financial protection that is readily used by rich people (and companies) should they make a ruinous financial investment. I’m also really happy that Staci apparently knew everything about what she was getting into before she decided to go into a whole lot of debt to the Western New England University School of Law.

But I’m sticking to the point that most people in their early 20s have no clue about what getting into six figures of educational debt will do to the rest of their lives. I still think that absent parental support of any kind, people in over their heads in debt should be able to file for normal bankruptcy without needing to show undue hardship.

The story shouldn’t be about students looking for an “easy” way out of their obligations. The story should be about helping 22-year-olds fully understand what they are getting into, and looking at all the options available for people to get out of horrible financial mistakes of the past….

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As we mentioned in Morning Docket, more and more law school graduates are trying to seek bankruptcy protection from their mountains of student loan debt. Bankruptcy? Really?

Now, we know that reading comprehension is tested on the LSAT, but apparently, once students complete the law school entrance exam, that skill goes right out the window. How do we know? Because law school graduates, who freely signed up for student loans as law students, are now trying to shirk their repayment responsibilities. They are the 99% (of people who sign on the dotted line and think nothing of it until it’s time to face the consequences).

All the documents these law school graduates signed and claimed to have read and understood prior to accepting their student loans — well, they had some words to say about bankruptcy. Important words. Here are some of them, pulled from my very own master promissory note:

We will discharge (forgive) your loan if: [y]our loan is discharged in bankruptcy. However, federal student loans are not automatically discharged if you file for bankruptcy. In order to have your loan discharged in bankruptcy, you must prove to the bankruptcy court that repaying the loan would cause undue hardship.

Aww, you think you’ve got an undue hardship, precious little snowflake? Well, think again….

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* More law school graduates are trying to get their day in court for bankruptcy protection. Looks like these people didn’t read their student loan MPNs carefully (or at all). They state pretty clearly that you’re screwed for life. [Reuters]

* Part-time programs are closing their doors. Even Cooley Law took a hit, trimming its incoming class by one-third. Now, only 57 bajillion students get to attend the nation’s second-best law school. [National Law Journal]

* James R. Silkenat was selected as the president-elect at the ABA’s Midyear Meeting, meaning his ascension to the presidency is “virtually assured.” We can only hope that his leadership is as awesome as his combover. [ABA Journal]

* PETA’s Thirteenth Amendment whale slavery lawsuit is heading to court today in California. Maybe we’ll see if what SeaWorld calls a “baseless” and “offensive” lawsuit has got legs. Or flippers. [CNN]

* Polygamy for all! Kody Brown’s bigamy lawsuit will proceed in Utah thanks to Jonathan Turley’s lawyering. Are we going to see the drama play out on season three of Sister Wives this spring? [Associated Press]

* It turns out that Dr. Susan Friery, one of the Boston Globe’s beautiful Massachusetts lawyers of 2009, is just a doctor of laws. She was suspended for claiming otherwise late last week. [Thomson Reuters News & Insight]

* Joshua Monson, the suspected serial lawyer stabber, must regret this missed opportunity. While signing documents with his weapon of choice, he allegedly punched a corrections officer in the face. [Daily Herald]

* Patriots running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis, otherwise known as “The Law Firm,” was supposed to go to law school. And even even with that loss, it looks like he still picked the right career path. [New York Times]

What happens when you put thirty American lawyers in a London pub where the drinks are free for the evening? Well, let’s just say it’s rather different to what happens when thirty British lawyers are assembled in equivalent conditions.

The attendees at last week’s inaugural Benedict Arnold Society meeting for young and young-ish American lawyers in the United Kingdom, held at the Witness Box pub in the heart of London’s legal district, were impeccably behaved. No one collapsed, vomited or — in spite of my continual prying for insider information — gave away a single secret about their firms. In fact, I think I was the only one there who was drunk.

Still, my memories of at least the first part of the evening remain. What stood out was how nicely many of the assembled Yank expats had done by coming to London — be it because they had saved money on legal education costs, were enjoying heightened status due to their willingness to travel, or were appreciating the health-inducing lighter U.K. workloads.

Several had undertaken their legal studies in the U.K., thus circumventing the enormous fees charged by U.S. law schools….

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Wait, you expected a real burning man? Well, that's just silly.

As you know, some people have taken to suing law schools because despite the education and expense, they find themselves unemployed.

Suing people is such an American way of handling a problem. “Wahhh, your system took advantage of me and thousands like me. I’m angry. I’m gonna sue you, and even if I lose, it’ll make you all sadfaced.”

In other parts of the world, they know how to freaking protest a scam:

A 27-year-old Moroccan who set himself on fire to protest his unemployment died from his burns Tuesday in a Casablanca hospital, his wife said.

Boom goes the dynamite! (Too soon?)

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Here at Above the Law, we realize that we sometimes sound like broken records. We’re constantly bemoaning the casualties of the student loan industry, blaming law schools for preying upon poor, innocent, and financially inexperienced law students.

But at some point, there comes a time when we’ve got to stop defending law students when they make incredibly irresponsible financial decisions. Sometimes, we’ve really got to wonder: how can people be so dense? Simply put, it’s because they’re law students.

Case in point: kids at a D.C. metro-area school recently fell victim to a scam that wasn’t perpetrated by their law school, but instead, by an alleged law student whose sob story sounded just like a Sally Struthers commercial….

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There’s a really funny post up on Constitutional Daily, in which the protagonist — who holds a J.D. from NYU Law and was laid off from Biglaw during the recession — recounts his inability to secure a job at Target. It got me thinking of that other great lie that law schools tell incoming law students: “Yada yada, you can do anything with a law degree… also, I’d like to interest you in partial ownership of the Brooklyn Bridge.”

But many J.D. holders have found out the hard way that holding a law degree only opens doors to “law” jobs. They aren’t degrees of general utility.

If anything, they close more doors than they open….

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Kyle McEntee (left) and Patrick Lynch (right), co-founders of Law School Transparency (LST).

Late last year, plaintiffs’ lawyer David Anziska pledged to make 2012 “the year of law school litigation.” Anziska, who’s currently spearheading efforts to sue law schools over allegedly misleading employment statistics, told my colleague Staci Zaretsky that he and his team members “want to sue as many law schools as we can to bring them into the fray.”

That’s all well and good — for plaintiffs’ lawyers, and for news outlets like ours seeking juicy stories to cover. But there are other ways to achieve reform. So here’s another thought: Could 2012 instead be the year of law school transparency? Transparency achieved voluntarily, by law schools coming forward on their own to share comprehensive data about how their graduates are faring in the job market?

In the weeks since we wrote about the University of Chicago Law School providing very detailed employment data about its recent graduating classes, based on our interview with Dean Michael Schill, we’ve heard from deans, professors, alumni and students of other law schools, all with similar messages. They believe that their schools, like Chicago, are also transparent about graduate employment outcomes — and they want to be recognized for it.

This chorus of “me too!” messages raises a promising possibility: Is law school transparency becoming, for lack of a better word, “cool”? Will honesty about employment data become the hot new trend for U.S. legal education?

Perhaps. But there’s still a long way to go, as shown by a report issued this week by Law School Transparency….

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