Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Prof. Tamanaha and My Place in the Higher Education Scam Movement

Much has been said throughout the law blogosphere about Professor Brian Tamanaha's thoughts on the law school model and the "vulgar" law scam bloggers. I recommend taking the time to read all of the responses from Jobless Juris Doctor, Exposing the Law School Scam, Outside Lies Magic, and Shilling Me Softly under our blogroll. I especially recommend reading Jobless Juris Doctor's very powerful post, "Student's Pay So Professors Can Play", in response to Professor Tamanaha's admission that he is perfectly fine earning as much as he can with lots of time for research and conferences, even if those costs come from charging students with little job prospects hundreds of thousands of dollars. No mention of actual teaching said students, but never mind that. We all know a passion for teaching is not the main reason why law professors do what they do.

In doing so, Tamanaha recognizes himself and his colleagues on the side of the ruling class who have little to no concern about the masses that struggle to survive in order to make sure that they remain well fed. These accommodationists know they are part of an unjust system and, to his credit, Tamanaha is the first to acknowledge his role in it. The condescension dripping from his admission came at no surprise. This feeling is common for the elites when they are forced to admit that their riches come at the expense of destroying (or being part of a system that destroys) thousands of lives, both literally and figuratively.

Like the BP executives and their chairman who "wants his life back", they care enough about the "small people" to acknowledge that we exist, that they make lots and lots of money off of our existence, but that our lives aren't important enough for them to make any significant changes that could jeopardize putting even a dent into their wealth and fine living. Do I expect much to come from Tamanaha's admission? Not really. But it's a step in the right direction if we get more of the "serious people" talking about the problem, if only to give our blogs more traffic and make more people aware that we exist as a source of support and awareness for prospective law school students as well as unemployed graduates and attorneys.

This is why Angel and I continue BIDER. We aren't "vulgar" and we aren't "angry, unemployed graduates and bloggers trying to write their way out of debtor’s prison". Elie Mystal of all people should know this. He wrote a post in January admitting that he graduated from Harvard Law School with $150k in student debt:

I graduated law school in 2003, owing Harvard University just under $150,000. At the time, I had no idea what starting my professional career $150K in the hole would do to my life. I figured I’d work hard, make money, and pay my loans out of my general non-disposable income funds — kind of like my cable bill.

Seven years, two careers, numerous deferments and defaults, and one global economic meltdown later, I still owe a ton of money. Now, however, I pay it to various debt collection agencies and lawyers. When prospective landlords run a pro forma credit check on my application, they come back looking at me like I’ve been convicted of multiple war crimes. Every raise I’ll ever get will be eaten up by the collection agencies until sweet death allows me one everlasting and satisfying default. And, oh yeah, I don’t even want to practice law anymore — I quit my Biglaw job because, despite the debt, I really wanted to have a job that I enjoyed. So I essentially purchased a $150,000 disposable good. My time working in Biglaw was kind of like a very expensive vacation that I debt financed.

I mention all this because I am the cautionary tale prospective law students never want to think about. I mention all this because it is noble to crush false hope. I mention all this because there are way too many people poised to follow in my financially ruinous steps.

And isn't that what the scam bloggers have been doing all along for little or no compensation? Warning people each and everyday that law school and taking out $100K+ in student loans is a really bad idea, especially in a jobless era? So, it's only cool to leave the law profession entirely with $150k in debt if you attended a top law school. But if a similar fate befalls others, either willingly or unwillingly, we are angry bloggers trying to write our way out of debtor's prison? Sure, whatever.

Here is a little recap. Our regular readers know that I attended a T14 law school and Angel attended a top 30 law school. We have both interned or worked at NYC law firms. Angel was laid off from Biglaw. Maybe I wasn't smart enough to decide against law school, but I was smart enough to have most of my college education paid for with scholarships and financial aid. I owe less than $50k in private loans with low interest rates. I have been underemployed for most of 2009 and 2010 and have a non-law related, full-time job offer that starts in several months. Plenty of my friends and classmates from law school who graduated from both the bottom and top of their class are unemployed. In the end, it didn't matter that they went to Harvard undergrad or graduated magna cum laude from a prestigious T14, because they are still in the same horrible position as the rest of us. Go figure.

So sorry to disappoint the law school cartel and ATL who like to generalize all of the scam bloggers as bitter TTT losers, but a lot of us are quite accomplished, at least on paper. Which goes to show our readers that unemployment, underemployment, and life destroying debt can happen to anyone regardless of law school rank. Debt is debt regardless of who you are or where you went to school. It doesn't matter if you go to Harvard Law or Cooley Law, $150k in student debt will destroy your life unless you are one of the few graduates today who will go on to make Biglaw partner or become part of the law school scam. Don't want to hate your life at the expense of making a Biglaw salary? Then don't go to law school, even if it's a T14. You will never be able to pay off your debt otherwise.

This is why Angel and I continue to blog and maintain a place for the unemployed to vent their frustrations. Get used to us because we are making a positive difference and we expect to blog for a very long time considering that the economy is not expected to get back on track until at least 2015. There will be thousands more joining us in the coming years. At least we know we're on the right side of the fight.


  1. I try to check this (and the related blogs) every day but I like how this blog often has an upbeat vibe to it. I even post (only to this blog).
    However, not to defend this professor but I don't really blame the professors for all this. Yes, they are profiting off it but I have worked for companies that do things that I didn't agree with and I took those jobs so I can't really get on my high horse. Now I do think that whoever puts out those ridiculously fraudulent employment statistics is a crook. I am glad these blogs are out there. I went to school before these things were around so all the "research" available was the tissue of lies put out by the industry. Keep up the good work.

  2. Thank you both so much for keeping this going. As you know, I didn't attend a T1 law school, but had a kind of "charmed" early career (federal appellate clerkship, Biglaw, etc.), and I still can't stop thinking "LOSER LOSER LOSER" every time I look in the damn mirror. And it's mostly since I took a non-law job at a law school (my alma mater!) working with these assholes every day, who never missed an opportunity to make me feel like crap (for attending their law school instead of a T14) while I continued to practice and support 3 generations of family. A few weeks ago they fired me, eight months pregnant (liberal academia!) -- maybe that will make me feel better? To be "only" a real lawyer again?

    Topic? I do blame the professoriate to some degree, particularly those folks who look down their noses at you and take the attitude that "It's law school, not lawyer school," or some such crap, in order to justify refusing to offer classes that would actually train students to be lawyers. Because they would rather teach seminars in such interesting-but-completely-impractical-to-99%-of-lawyers subjects like "law and [fill in the blank]," "women in prison," "creative legal writing," and that kind of crap. And at least at "my" law school, the faculty does indeed VOTE on whether to raise tuition. So in my view they are culpable, at least in part, for the ruined lives of our newest alums.

  3. Jadz, I'm so sorry to hear that you were fired! That is horrible, but not surprising. I've met women who were fired when they became pregnant too.

    Anon: Thank you for reading BIDER. I do not blame people for taking jobs with corporations. We have to do what we can to survive and provide for ourselves. However, I do have an issue with people who are entitled, believe they are special and deserve to be overpaid when in actuality they contribute very little to the well-being of our society. I also have issue with those who look down on the people who pay for their large salary. That's why I likened the situation to BP because the execs continue to justify their million dollar salaries, and I think most of them actually believe they deserve it. And they look down on the people whose homes and jobs are destroyed because of their actions.

  4. Oh no, JADZ! Your old school is the slime of the earth. May all those wenches be cursed with gestational diabetes, breach births and laboring until they are 10 centimeters, only to have a c-section! That's my curse to them! And may your child birth be a breeze. It's funny how those who know the law best, violate it so easily. UGH.
    Hardknocks and I LOVE our readers. So happy that we can make a difference, ever so slight. Just happy that kids today can find information other than that put out by the law schools themselves.

  5. Thanks for the shout out Hardknocks! It was difficult to digest both the professor's and ATL's hypocrisy but I guess it's about what you'd expect. I think it's more shameful that Mystal has an HLS JD and can't get out of debt. Unlike other law grads, a lot of doors open to HLS grads just on the name of their school.

  6. The smart lawyers went to the cheapest accredited school they could find. At least they understood math and market research.

  7. I second JJD's thanks for the shoutout, Hardknocks!

    I also wanted to chime in with the reality that all scambloggers are not "unemployed losers". I did attend a Tier 2 school, but I was on law review, had RA gigs for two profs, had scholarships, all of it...insofar as I could have, I also did everything right. I just happened to graduate at the wrong time...and, clearly, I have a big mouth.

    Prof. Tamanaha's post has received a great amount of press, which is great for the cause, but it's a drop in the bucket, and that is why Angel, Hardknocks, Nando, JJD, Esq. Never, Demosthenes, and all of us are going to keep fighting to stem the tide of new law school scam victims.

  8. You know, when I graduated law school in '97, I was in absolute Hell. I couldn't find a job. My sister, also a lawyer from a third tier school, landed a job in a big firm. So, I looked real bad by comparison. Furthermore I just got engaged, and I didn't want to have to move in with my parents three states away from my love. My fiance couldn't help much. She was only 18, and a freshman in college.

    Like Jobless JD, I was verging on suicidal. I used to really envy old people because they had the opportunity to die soon and nobody would think the less of them. It was awful.

    After 18 months, I found a crappy job doing tickets. I stuck with it a year and went off on my own.

    That was tough. I had one year I made ten grand. However, I did get a few decent cases that paid off my loans. (I made lots of contacts in the courthouse to get these cases. It took a long time to develop, and I covered innumerable hearings for more experienced attorneys). I literally did it all. And I wound up outwitting some cracker jack lawyers. One of my cases went to Federal Appeals Court. I argued and won in the second highest court in the country. That was a thrill.

    Nonetheless, I was limping along. Financially

    I guess my story has a happy ending. Salvation occurred. My teenage bride, now in her thirties became a doctor. She finally got a real medical job. Tired of law, I now take care of our three kids full time.

    Hey, it's not prestigious. When people call me Mr. Mom, I remind them how much time I have to exercise and that I could probably kick their butts. My parents hate the idea of my "not working." (Even though I perform a valuable service to my family). They probably think me a failure. But I love the kids, I get to read all I want, and I get paid in sex. Maybe not a Hollywood ending, but what can I say...

  9. anon at 12:19, that sounds like a happy ending... literally. Kudos to you for living above other people's expectations and doing the best by those who matter--your children!!! And arguing in Supreme Court is WOW.. I think you can call it a day.

  10. Oh, and in my 12:19 comment, I forgot to mention that during my spell of unemployment, my parents constantly called me to remind me about how I was letting them down. When my dad had a heart attack, my mom blamed me, saying I was the cause of the stress that caused his MI. I'm telling you, I was suicidal.

  11. The legal scamblogging movement always included some impressive writers and thinkers, but I've been incredibly impressed at how many new and remarkably well-written blogs have been popping up.

    As Marx put it, capitalism sows the seeds of its own destruction. So to, hopefully, with the law school scam.

    If you have an army of bright and well-educated young people with hundreds of thousands of dollars in nondischargeable debt and no good paying jobs, they're going to migrate to a low-cost endeavor. And blogging about the scam is free.

  12. Re: My 12:19 comment.

    Ironically, considering the name of your blog, everything in life I did that I was not supposed to do or was crazy for having done worked out just fantastic. Everything I did that I was supposed to do turned to crap. For instance, dating a 16 year old girl when I was in law school was the best decision I ever made (cut me some slack, she asked ME out... go figure). The whole "get an education" part worked out somewhat less well.

    By the way, have you ever seen the book "Mozart in the Jungle"? It's about how there used to be another (Partially government created) bubble in another industry-- classical music. The government paid for the training of too many classical musicians, with similar sad results to the law school/higher ed bubble. I think you'd like the book.

  13. Thanks, guys. I am BEYOND relieved to have made the decision to hold onto that second law-practice job notwithstanding the thousand-mile move to work at the law school. It was veryvery tough to be working at a place that really does rip off its students and provide them with little but contempt (well, except for the trust-fund babies who go into public interest work) in return. Now I just need to find some affordable health insurance and a buyer for my house so we can get the hell outta here. : (

  14. I give Professor Tamanaha some credit for risking his neck like he did. Although his post at Balkanization only scratched the surface, he gained much needed publicity for our cause and for some of our blogs. I wonder how much flak he privately received.



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