August 26, 2011
Law School Scams, Scam Blogs, & Law Teaching
Posted by Christine Hurt

No one at the Glom so far has commented on the blog buzz the past two weeks surrounding the previously anonymous blog Inside the Law School Scam.  Paul Caron rounded up a lot of the comments last week, then Ann Bartow and Orin Kerr chimed in.  Paul Horwitz has made some very insightful comments as well.  Brian Leiter has been one of the more forceful critics.  The ABA Journal also provides more blogospheric links.

Formerly Anonymous Law Prof provided an eager audience with mea culpas on behalf of all law professors on running and profiting from a Ponzi scheme in which law students are the suckers.  (On the site, I could not get to his first few posts.  This may just be something weird, but here are his opening remarks:  First, Second, Third.)  There's a lot to sort out over there, and much of it has been said elsewhere.  However, I am all for the marketplace of ideas and like to see the conversation about the costs and benefits of going to law school continuing.  In fact, I blogged about it a long time ago.  As I'm coming late to the ALP comment party, I'll briefly chime in on some of the topics touched on by the discussion.

1.    Perhaps in some corners of the Internet, no one can tell you're a dog, but these days if you are an outspoken law professor and you make a point of listing some of your credentials, you probably won't stay anonymous for long.  And, people will get upset at you for trying.  It's one thing to pen an anonymous essay or two, but to engage in blogfights where your identity is secret but you get to criticize your adversary by name won't sit well with people.

2.    Once your identity is known, people will use personal facts about you to attack your arguments, whether rightly or wrongly.  Ask Todd Henderson. 

3.    If there is a "scam," then it must rest in some sort of false disclosure about the costs/benefits of law school.  I'm not sure that blaming law professors is the right way to correct that scam.  Perhaps at some schools faculty are more involved in these things, but I'm not sure how many faculty members see the numbers that are given to students or would know if they are massaged or not.  Now, ALP would have us believe that law professors are willfully blind and therefore culpable here.  I'm not sure that's true.  Most professors I know are more pro-student than pro-management anyway.  Law professors are the most visible of the parties involved, but I think energizing and educating prospective students is a better tactic.

4.    The solution to the scam of course is transparency, but as my colleague Larry Ribstein points out, will transparency work?  Will the number of applications go down?  Will students make more informed choices?  I note on Paul Caron's blog today that a new, unaccredited law school in Nashville, Tennesee is opening this year with more students than they thought they would have, with higher LSAT numbers than they had expected.  Surely these students have access to the internet and mainstream media?  Young, beautiful people flock to Hollywood every year to become famous, and nothing will stop them.

5.    Even as law school tuition rises, opportunity costs remain fairly low for many students.  When I started college, I knew that I wanted to go to law school.  I was told by a law school dean at the time to just pick a major that I would like so I would have a great g.p.a.  I chose English.  If I hadn't gone to law school, I could have gone to graduate school, taught K-12 (with certification and maybe more classes), or maybe have been a technical writer/editor.  However, these days I might counsel my own children differently and tell them to choose a different major in case they don't get into a top law school.  But right now we still have a pipeline of students with majors that don't automatically get them high-paying jobs that would convince them not to chance law school.

6.    The legal world, like the rest of the world, is rapidly changing.  Cheese is moving everywhere.  Law school used to be cheaper; it used to be harder (not "humane"); fewer students graduated; fewer schools existed.  Associates now get paid more; they can't work more given the number of hours in a day; they have less job security; there are fewer jobs.  Law professors are paid more; getting a teaching job is more difficult; the expectations to be hired and get tenure are higher; the activities that are rewarded are different.  Perhaps some of these changes are related.  But yes, law schools will have to adapt, just as law firms are adapting.

7.    There are a lot of very upset law graduates out there.  ALP definitely has a very large target audience, and his message resonates with them.  Law schools do have to take responsibility for those graduates.  Of course, some of the things that law schools have tried to do to provide short-term help to talented grads like giving them short-term employment or subsidizing outside work, might be seen as massaging employment statistics to ALP.  I would take that trade-off, as long as more data is provided.

8.    Finally, I have the best job in the world.  But not for the reasons ALP thinks it's the best job.  Yes, it is a job where no one can see you shirk and even if they did, they couldn't fire you.  Whatever.  Being a mom is just like that, and I'm the best mom in the world.  Law teaching is the best job because I get paid to do what I love.  That's the big secret.  I love the law, and I love learning about it and telling students about it.  I love writing about it.  Does it bother me that other people (not at my institution) are lucky enough to have this job and don't take advantage of it and give it 100%?  A little.  Does it bother me that a lot of what I do is above and beyond what I "have" to do to keep my job.  No, because I love it -- I love mentoring students, doing my piece on the university radio, hosting the law school TV show a few years ago, giving presentations to alumni, serving on university committees (OK, maybe "love" is a strong word), blogging, writing articles, updating my book, giving interviews, going to conferences, attending workshops, presenting my work, trying new courses, updating my courses, etc.  If you love law teaching, then you may even be underpaid.  If you don't love law teaching, then you may be a scammer.  However, I think most appointments committees can smell these scammers a mile away.

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