Christian's Chronicles

July| Vol. 22 No. 8.02 | Christian's Chronicles © 2015 – All rights reserved.

Ranting about law school

File this one under ‘Favorite Online Rants’

Very recently I had the pleasure of exchanging some ideas online regarding the value of a Juris Doctor degree; the diploma conferred on law school graduates upon completing their legal education. I thought I’d share it for anyone who cares to read it. I have omitted the name of the other party, referencing him only as ‘C’ in the interest of privacy (although the discussion is available on a public forum). To put this into a bit more context, let me say a few things about legal education. Law schools publish salary and employment statistics, in materials stamped with the “Official ABA Data” seal of approval. The ABA is the American Bar Association, which regulates the profession. Recently, it has come to light that much of the published statistics may have been highly misleading. When calculating employment numbers, ANY type of employment was counted (including part-time barista); but when calculating average salary figures, a much smaller percentage of graduates provided responses to survey questions (thus probably not including the minimum wage salaries of baristas in the calculation.) The ABA recently approved new standards for reporting employment data, to address the issue of employment statistics. If you want a more thorough understanding of the issues, do a search for ‘law school scam’ and see what comes up.

History: I had posted a piece called ‘SJSU takes a stand’ expressing my thoughts on education, prompted by the recent controversy involving an open letter published by the philosophy department of San Jose State University criticizing Massive Open Online Courses. It was well received, with most commentators offering praise and agreement with my views. ‘C’ also liked it; however, he wondered if this post reflected a change in my views criticizing legal education. I replied to let him know that my views on that latter topic had not changed, including a reference to another of my posts called ‘Debt: the new slavery‘ in which I cite an article called ”Student Debt and the Crushing of the American Dream.’  I reproduced portions of our exchange in “quotes,” with additional annotations in [italics within brackets] I inserted for context and information. I also left the original links I referenced in my post. My comments are marked “The Chronicler.” Enjoy:

–          The Chronicler: “…I will say a few words about law schools in general. To call what goes on at law school an education is laughable. It certainly does not begin to approach anything in the nature of fostering the development of wisdom.1 It doesn’t even qualify as job training, because it does not prepare law grads to practice law (as the vast majority of attorneys would happily concede this point).2 At best, it is preparation for the Bar Exam. A more accurate description is a 3 year hazing ritual for those who wish to enter a gilded profession. Except it is based on an outdated model of times past when graduates were welcomed to careers complete with paralegals and secretaries, not the present sobering facts of overwhelming underemployment.3 The reason why law schools are able to charge what they do is because of inflated, misleading job and salary statistics and marketing campaigns that have most of the population fooled into believing that it is a sound investment. The recent emergence of class action lawsuits against several schools,4 the more recent revision of job placement reporting standards, and the more realistic statistics published at the Law School Transparency site  have done much to debunk this myth.

The ABA itself has stated that law school grads on average acquire so much debt, that given the job prospects (and I quote) they “have no foreseeable way to pay [it] back.5 A final note: when you go to the Law School Transparency link above, be sure to click on California, and sort by ‘Underemployment Score.’

–          C: “Tell us what you really mean though”

–          The Chronicler: “I thought I did. PS: I’m confused by your remark. It doesn’t even work as ‘sarcasm.’”

–          C: “You are a smart, articulate, might I say good looking guy. (Not sarcastic). I think you could benefit from some more personal responsibility. I know many successful people from lesser schools than McGeorge who have done very well. You should focus your energy on your positive endeavors more than blaming your legal education for all your problems. I think even your debt cannot stop your will to power. It hasn’t stopped mine.”

–          The Chronicler: “Thanks for the tip. Anecdotal evidence of individual success stories does not change the fact that law school is a statistically demonstrable bad investment for most. Additionally, individual successes (whatever the ’cause’) do not lessen the injustice of misrepresenting the risk of investment. But I will keep your advice in mind. Especially because you called me good looking. I am a sucker for flattery.”

–          C: “Just don’t headbutt me again. :)”  [NOTE: I can neither confirm nor deny that I headbutted some of my friends on occasion, as a form of bonding.]

REFERENCES:
1 On the ‘Socratic Method’ and legal education: First, I am a fan of the Socratic Method, being a philosopher and admirer of Socrates. However, I think he is rolling in his grave every time his name is brought up in the legal context. Socrates was concerned with philosophical analysis and hated sophistry. His questions were meant to develop critical thinking. There is no analysis in law school. Let me repeat: there is no analysis in law school; Nothing that Socrates would recognize as such, anyway. Though the ‘professors’ do ask questions aimed at confusing students mainly by putting them on the spot (something with which I do not entirely disagree), the questions are not aimed at performing any sort of analysis, critical thinking, or meaningful reflection. What they trumpet as analysis consists of a method known as IRAC, which stands for Issue, Rule, Analysis, and Conclusion. This is the model for law school exams. Through the semester, students build an outline to help them identify the various legal issues they will be tested on during the only exam they will have, at the end of each semester. Here, they will face a hypothetical fact pattern, from which they identify the relevant issues, regurgitate the rules, and plug the facts in like babies shoving the square or the triangle in the corresponding shape (what’s that game called?). The conclusions do not matter. (Really, they don’t.) And they call this ‘analysis.’ No wonder so many of the published opinions have such tortured logic and dubious premises.

2 The fact that law schools do not teach practical lawyering skills is something universally known. See also a reprint of a New York Times article called “What They Don’t Teach Law Students: Lawyering” with the subtitle: “Schools Leave Practical Training to Firms,” by David Segal, Nov. 20, 2011.

3 On Overwhelming underemployment & the broken model of law school education: Here are a few links to introduce the issue:

  1. Business Insider: 10 Faces Behind The Incredible Law School Underemployment Crisis (Check out what desperation can drive people to do)
  2. The Atlantic: The Jobs Crisis at Our Best Law Schools Is Much, Much Worse Than You Think
  3. A blog entry explaining The Outdated Law School Model.
  4. The title of this New York Times article says it all: To Place Graduates, Law Schools Are Opening Firms
  5. From the ABA: Law Schools Should Consider Med School Model (Via experiential learning and direct paths to employment)

4 More than a dozen law schools have been sued by graduates unable to find employment after completing their degrees. The core of these class action lawsuits is misrepresentation, in that the officially reported employment and salary statistics fail to represent the reality of job prospects. Here’s a sampling. Some of these lawsuits have been tossed out, while others have survived.

5See: http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/as_troubling_indicators_mount_for_2010_law_grads_an_aba_expert_issues_a_war/ referencing an article originally published in the Wall Street Journal.

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2 comments on “Ranting about law school

  1. Pingback: I stand corrected | Christian's Chronicles

  2. literarylawyer
    May 14, 2013

    Hi Christian. Thank you for commenting on “Thinking About Going To Law School.” After posting it, I read the article you referenced regarding the civil law suit for misrepresented employment stats. Honestly, it saddens me that the profession and that which gets you into it, is on the decline. My decision to go to law school was not the result of research or a study of statistics. Had I done so, I too would have been discouraged. I am the person you speak of when you mention the individual success of a law school graduate. I am very proud of my law degree and even knowing what I know now, I would do the same all over again. (And this is from someone who actually hated law school.) Why? Because I always knew it was a means to an end. I took what I got from it and made my own success. I do agree that the job market has dried up and that’s a sound reason to choose another career. I also agree that law school does not teach you how to practice law. That comes with interning, being mentored and finding your own way. I did it, was glad I did it, and ended up with one of the best jobs in the world. (At least I think so.) I guess that makes me one of the lucky ones which I am grateful to be –

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