Stupid scams that still work

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.)

Why do people try to scam law firms? Is it because people know firms are flush with cash, or out of some deep-seated hatred of lawyers, or because they think law firm bookkeepers are stupid (since sometimes they are)?

Earlier this month, the FBI issued a warning to law firms about overseas scammers sending e-mails to lawyers asking for help collecting delinquent payments. Beware.

That one is a little complicated. A scam being run closer to home is simpler and stupider. The New York office of a Biglaw firm sent out a memo to its associates this week to beware of the “taxi scam.”

How does it work?

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If someone told you they had a $14,500,000 inheritance from their father stuck in a bank account in Burkina Faso, you would likely laugh in their face and offer them some Viagra and a penis enlarger in exchange for a slice of the fortune.

But what if they told you this while you were sitting in a conference room of a corporate law firm, and the person was flanked by Baker Hostetler attorneys who vouched for the legitimacy of the African fortune?

Under those circumstances, a group of Ohioans invested over one million dollars to help Willia Burton recover her supposed windfall from a foreign bank account. But it’s been five years, and it’s become evident that — sur-freaking-prise! — it’s actually a scam.

Now the nine gullible investors are suing Burton and her Baker Hostetler lawyers, William Culbertson and Paul Feinberg, for fraud, civil conspiracy, and negligent misrepresentation.

Unfortunately, there’s no claim to be made for the public humiliation they shall now suffer for falling for a “Nigerian bank account scam”…

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