Let me explain how this started. The American Association of Law Schools had its annual conference this weekend here in New York. On Saturday, I spoke on a panel about law school rankings with Bob Morse (U.S. News), Karen Sloan (National Law Journal), Katrina Dewey (Lawdragon), and Dimitra Kessenides (Bloomberg BNA). It was a fun and lively discussion in which we explained the different things we were trying to capture with our law school rankings, and how law school rankings are used and should be used. My plan was to cover the conference on Friday, speak on Saturday, then get drunk on Saturday night to make up for not being able to get drunk on Friday night.
But there was a huge snowstorm in NYC on Thursday night and I did not have the will to pull out my dogsled and make it to midtown on Friday morning. Instead, I followed the conference via various Twitter feeds of people who did make it. This was surprisingly effective (the internet is an amazing thing). Instead of being stuck in one room, I was following reports from many. So I was just sitting, warm and cozy in my basement, when this tweet went up:
Dean: Tuition costs not only reason grads in debt. They don’t apply for scholarships, drive nice cars. #aals2014
This isn’t the first car-related foolishness we’ve heard from defenders of law school; the former president of the ABA told law students that they should sell their cars to pay for law school. And this needs to stop. There are too many people in charge of law schools who remember tuition costs from when they went to school, which is beyond irrelevant.
Since some of these guys appear to be too addled to do the math, I’ve come up with something easier: pictures. I want you to show us what kind of car you drive in law school (or what kind of car you drove). Send us your jalopy; hell, if you have a sweet ride, send that too (subject line “Law School Car”). I would love to see if any of these cars could even put a dent in the current price of law school tuition.
Some of our Twitter followers were more than happy to start us out….
* Chris Gossage, the London solicitor who spilled the beans on J.K. Rowling’s pseudonym for The Cuckoo’s Calling (affiliate link), was fined for breaking a client confidence — making him the first person in 2014 to meet his resolution and lose a significant number of pounds. [Perez Hilton]
* How awful are student loan companies? This woman tried to discharge a student loan and was told she spent too much income dining out — referencing a $12 McDonald’s Value Meal for her and her husband. You stay klassy, loan sharks! [New York Times]
* Border agents really have something against musical instruments. It all dates back to that one time at band camp when a flute stood them up. [Overlawyered]
* ATMs aren’t all that secure. At least not in Brooklyn. Maybe it was opening ironically…. [Legal Juice]
* Donald Looper, the founder of 120-lawyer Looper Reed & McGraw, has stepped away from the firm. Probably to head back in time to prevent the firm from ever existing, because that’s what good Loopers do. [ABA Journal]
* A human rights lawyer was kidnapped in Syria and the rebel groups seem to not care even a little bit. [Al-Monitor]
I find New Year’s to be a fairly depressing time of year. The calendar demands that you reflect on everything in your life over the previous, arbitrary, and finite period. And if you are naturally cynical, depressive, or even just ambitious, that reflection and self-assessment reveals flaws and unrealized potential.
It’s why the whole “New Year’s resolution” phenomenon is a thing. Every New Year’s resolution can be reduced to “I think I suck, tomorrow I’m going to try to not suck.” And, of course, New Year’s resolutions tend to be either petty or wildly unrealistic. If you can look into your soul and decide that the most important “self-improvement” you can make is to lose ten pounds and fit back into your wedding dress, I kind of hate you. But if you find yourself looking in a mirror thinking “okay, January 1, no more cocaine,” as if you can muster the Earth’s orbital transit to aid you in freeing yourself of addiction, then you’re also very annoying.
What I’m trying to say is that I’d bet that the seeds to the most terrible and irrational decisions to go to law school are planted on New Year’s (or your birthday). I have no evidence to back up this opinion, but “I’m going to do something with my life and go to law school” seems like exactly the kind of desperate thought that makes a lot of sense to people when the calendar demands they spend a lot of time gazing at their own navels.
Going to law school should be an intermediate step in a long-term plan, not the first step in a “changing your life” plan you’ve concocted because 2013 sucked and you don’t know what else to do with yourself. If you find yourself considering law school because your life looks like this guy’s, who’s jobless and living in his mom’s basement, STOP. BACK AWAY FROM THE LEDGE, have some Cold Duck tonight, and know that the blues will pass and that there are better ways to spend $150,000….
Earlier this week, we mentioned the ridiculous argument from a University of Tennessee law professor, Lucy Jewel, that law degrees confer non-economic benefits like “cultural cachet,” which make a law degree valuable to people who risk financial ruin to get it.
Professor Jewel writes: “Every graduation, when I see the beaming smiles from my students’ family members, I do not think about the fact that they are getting a degree from a so-called fourth-tier toilet law school; I see people who have achieved a dream (albeit at great financial expense) and obtained a credential that signifies membership in a powerful profession.”
Guys… I just can’t. I can’t keep beating back every stupid argument that any law professor can come up with to defend the systemic price-gouging of American law students. I am just one man and they are many. I have never in my life confronted a group of educated people so eager to justify the precise manner in which they economically take advantage of students — kids, really — too stupid to know any better. At this point, if a law professor took candy from a baby she’d say she did it to help the kid save on dental bills.
You want talk about the non-economic benefits of going to law school? FINE! Let’s talk about the social and cultural “cachet” you’ll get, and see if it’s worth all the CASH you won’t ever be seeing again…
In response to the declining number of J.D. applicants, law schools are getting creative. The ABA is getting creative. Law schools are desperate to come up with “innovative” offers to entice prospective applicants and encourage them take the plunge into an expensive education with uncertain job prospects.
Well, except for price. Nobody wants to “innovate” on price. Nobody wants to come up with creative or radical approaches to significantly cut the cost of legal education to bring it in line with the actual salary prospects of new graduates. They’ll come up with ridiculous curriculum overhauls to try to make the useless third year seem like something worth paying for, but they won’t lop a year off of the tuition people are expected to pay. If anything, law schools are more likely to try to tack a year onto the J.D. experience, at full price, instead of getting serious about debt reduction.
Today, we’ve got a school that will be offering a “hybrid-online” J.D. It’s the first time ever the ABA has granted a variance (an accreditation exception to a non-traditional program) to a school that allows it to teach half of the credit hours online. In the stodgy world of legal education, “online” sounds new and exciting and reformed-minded.
But when it comes to price: somebody get Admiral Ackbar on the holo because… IT’S A TRAP.
Some guy on Twitter was complaining that Above the Law focuses too much on the negative side of going to law school. Apparently this person mistakes us for a law school admissions office — people who ignore facts when they don’t fit their happy-clappy narrative. We do bring you some law school success stories when we hear of good ones. Do you know why those stories are “news”? Because law schools are so effective at leading people down a path of career frustration and financial ruin that when somebody beats the odds, it’s mildly noteworthy.
Law school is a good investment for some, and a terrible one for many. We say that all the time. The problem is that law schools do not give people enough information to assess whether or not they should go. The problem is that some law schools actively mislead people who are trying to make a sound decision. The problem is that even when law school “works out,” the tuition charged often vastly outstrips the value of the degree.
Sure, some people will succeed despite the high cost, misleading information, and weak job market. Law schools want you to think that those successful people are the norm, but really they are the outliers. (And, given the events of today, I guess I have to say that the folks who contemplate suicide are also outliers.)
This guy who recently bared his underachieving soul to Business Insider is the norm. This guy making $45,000 while carrying $200,000 of law school debt has the kind of life law students should prepare themselves for, regardless of what the admissions brochures and the guy on Twitter who made everything work out will tell you….
An actual top-50 law school has cut its tuition. They’re not giving a tuition “reimbursement” or “credit” or “scholarship.” They’re not making it a one-time deal available to impulse shoppers. Instead, they’re reducing tuition, across the board, for both in-state and out-of-state students, across all class years. They’re cutting tuition. Let us give them thanks and praise.
It’s still expensive, probably prohibitively so. But a top-tier school putting its tuition in reverse is big, bright news. I award this school all the corn in my silo, they’ve earned it….
I really don’t want to be that guy at the dinner table who points out that the mashed potatoes are lumpy and the turkey is a bit dry. A law school is cutting tuition by half for some students, and for that we should be thankful. This follows a trend, seen here and there, in which law schools are starting to respond to the low interest in legal education by competing on price.
Except it also follows the trend of not really being a tuition “cut.” Instead it’s a tuition scholarship that is worth about half of the tuition, while the school maintains its high listed sticker price.
Well, this is Above the Law, not a Thanksgivukkah meal. Who wants a side of hater?
* Santa Claus arrested for sexually harassing an 18-year-old elfette. She started getting suspicious when he kept looking at her and proclaiming “Here Cums Santa Claus.” [The Smoking Gun]
* Atlanta jury questionnaire lists “slave” as an occupational option. There’s a lot of outrage, but they were just covering their bases — a potential could have just moved there from Mississippi. [11 Alive]
* Speaking of juries, a long-time prosecutor ends up on a jury and sums up the 10 things he learned from his jury experience. [Texas Evidence]
* The Second Circuit’s decision to remove Judge Scheindlin from the stop-and-frisk case was bad enough — especially since it was an unprecedented overreach for a circuit panel when no one requested her removal — but its true cost is in chilling justice down the road, when judges start to look over their shoulders for fear that an activist appellate panel is out to get them. [WiseLawNY]
* Interesting question: what do you wear under a 3/4-sleeved blazer? I’d wear a T-shirt that says, “I give 3/4 of a damn today,” but most lawyers would disagree. [Corporette]
* Apple hired CPA Julie Davis as a damages expert in its case against Samsung. Whatever she was paid, it wasn’t enough — the jury singled out Davis as the reason they awarded Apple $290 million. [The Expert Institute]
I’m somewhat reluctant to criticize other people’s bad financial decisions, having made so many atrociously dumb decisions in my own life. My financial stupidity isn’t even in the past tense — I have a brand-new PS4, but I’m waiting until the new year when my Flexible Spending Account resets to go to the doctor.
On the other hand, sometimes it takes an idiot to spot an idiot (I just made that up). At the very least, I’m somewhat uniquely qualified to identify which financial mistakes are “common” among the financially illiterate, versus the mistakes that take a special kind of dumb.
There are a few articles making the rounds today: there’s a Salon article trying to explain why law schools are comfortable scamming their students, and there’s a Forbes article making the stupid “now is a good time to go to law school” argument (which should make smart people roll their eyes). We’ve been down those roads before.
But we also have an article from a guy who says law school was the start of his financial downfall. He doesn’t blame law school, which is good, because I’m pretty sure he’s got nobody else to blame besides himself. And maybe his ex-wife….
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