Why Journalism Isn’t a Useless Major

April 25, 2012

By Laura Tucker

As a former journalist, I’m used to being scorned in the court of public opinion. About the only profession regarded with more derision is the legal profession, so I suppose as a current law student, that means I’m moving down in the world.  The derision continues with The Daily Beast, which recently released a list of “Most Useless Majors,” on which journalism was named prominently.

I find The Daily Beast’s reasoning behind the choices suspect, questioning the logic behind these lists as any good journalist should. For one, it seems as though the reason for including these majors is the amount of money you will make after you get your degree (and I can attest that the pay in journalism is awful compared to other jobs that require a college degree). But some of us Satyriconistas have journalism degrees and not only took issue with the assessment that the major is “useless,” but we scoffed at it.

A journalism degree isn’t useless. In fact, it’s one of the most useful majors I could have possibly chosen.

Marc Randazza prefers hiring journalism and English majors at his firm because they actually know how to write. Both his bachelor’s and master’s are in journalism, “And I learned more about how to be a great lawyer from my journalism programs than I learned in my overpriced legal education,” he said. (See Randazza’s j-school alumni profile) “Further, I can teach anyone the skills they need to be a lawyer, but I don’t have the time to teach a 22 year old how to write coherently.”

J. Malcolm DeVoy IV, who earned his bachelor’s in communication, said, “While the degree itself was helpful, the opportunities that came with it – starting one newspaper at school and being the editor of another one with national distribution – were beneficial in practice.  LRW teachers may not appreciate the kind of flare that real clients demand in zealously advocating their case.  JP Morgan might not be amused by a pleading that invokes Bartleby the Scrivener or Dr. Who’s TARDIS in order to frame a difficult procedural issue.  Clients embroiled in socially important free speech litigation appreciate it, though, and it seems to help courts understand the dispute.”

DeVoy agrees that journalism school is important to legal writing.

“I have much to learn in writing, and have been fortunate to work alongside people like Kurt Opsahl, Jason Schultz and Laurence Pulgram and see the work product they produce; in many ways, it has positively influenced my own work,” he said. “But for every attorney whose writing captures the light in Plato’s cave, there are dozens who suck. I mean really suck – even after years (decades!) of experience, and to a point where even I feel comfortable condemning it.  In one case I’ve followed, the judge rejected a party’s motion because it was – in the judge’s own words – ‘incomprehensible.’  That level of advocacy is more common than anyone is willing to admit.  It’s a shame, since that type of ethic drags down the profession, and needlessly increases the costs to an opposing party who has to do extra work to overcome such glaring defects.”

How to interview a client and a witness; how to deal with difficult people who are unwilling to give you the information you want; how to tell when someone is evading your question or lying; how to get the information you actually need from people; how to write tight and concise; how to write exactly what you mean; how to get work done on a strict deadline; how to act ethically with clients and sources—these are all skills I did not learn in law school, but in journalism school. In my legal process classes—which at Boyd School of Law mostly focus on writing but also include such skills as interviewing and negotiation—the things I learned in journalism school gave me a great advantage.

As a law clerk for a busy litigation boutique, I utilize many of my journalism skills on an almost weekly basis. When I applied for the job, Marc was interested in little more than my journalism training in making his hiring decision. Most of my interview questions were about my journalism experience as the founding editor of the Boulder City Review in Nevada, copy editor and reporter at the Las Vegas-based View Neighborhood Newspapers, and editor-in-chief of UNLV’s undergraduate newspaper, The Rebel Yell.

I had a good journalism career, and the skills I learned in J-school at the UNLV Greenspun School of Journalism from such fabulous professors as Mary Hausch, and others like her—who taught me how to be ethical, how to write, and how to be a bull dog—were invaluable to my career and continue to serve me well in the legal field.

“If you want to be a lawyer, what you learn in J-school gives you a real advantage over those who didn’t attend,” said Randazza.


Legal Education Reform that I can Stand Behind

March 1, 2012

Back in 2007, before it was all cool and shit to do so, I wrote “What is Wrong With Legal Education?” Looking back on it, I think that it somewhat missed the mark. One of the worst things about legal education is the fact that any moron can walk into a shit law school, get a guaranteed student loan, and start racking up debt. The system essentially is a government-sponsored indentured servitude program, which allows law schools to churn out a product that would never be able to survive if market forces were allowed to act on it.

Professor Howard E. Abrams of Emory Law School hits the ball out of the park with his “application” to be dean at Emory. The best part of it? How he would deal with financial aid / student loans.

I would shift most or all financial aid into student loans with interest deferred until graduation and with reduction of interest and principal payments for up to five years depending on post-graduation income. That is, those of our students who seek and achieve immediate financial success can afford to bear the full cost of their legal education. But those students who have other goals or whose goals cannot immediately be achieved should have the burden of their debt reduced for a reasonable period. This has the added benefit of tying the Law School’s economic interest to that of its students: if the students cannot find jobs, the school does not get paid.

I proposed something similar in November of 2010. I simply suggested that if a student gets a government backed student loan, the school should have to be a guarantor on the loan.

If the school doesn’t want to co-sign the loan, students could still be free to go to banks and beg for loans. However, just like any other business loan, the student would need to demonstrate that the loan is a good investment. If someone came to me and said “I want to borrow $60,000 to study engineering at the University of Massachusetts,” that might be a good investment. If that same person wanted $200,000 to study art history at Bennington, well … I hardly think that would be a prudent use of my money.

It would seem that this plan would cure a good number of ills in the legal profession as well. Every law school chases the U.S. News Rankings like a dog digging for a shit-filled diaper in a trash bag. Then, every year, law students and law schools scream about the rankings and say that real employment figures should be factored in to the rankings.

If the school was on the hook for the loan, U.S. News would wind up where it belongs — recycled into toilet paper. Schools would be pretty damn committed to getting their students jobs, and those that were not would dry up and die under the blistering heat of the free market. We would likely see 25% of the law schools close, and most of those remaining open would be forced to drop their tuition. Law professors might suffer a little bit of a pay cut, but let’s face it, 75% of the full time profs are worthless anyhow. The legal teaching field would likely start to embrace more adjuncts – meaning more people who do the thing that they are supposed to be teaching.

Imagine that. Law schools actually having an investment in whether or not their graduates succeed. It would likely mean the end of at least half of the nation’s law schools, but I can’t say that would be a bad thing. It would certainly mean the end of U.S. News, and that would definitely be a good thing.


Has Chief Justice John Roberts been reading this blog?

August 14, 2011

By J. DeVoy

“Pick up a copy of any law review that you see, and the first article is likely to be, you know, the influence of Immanuel Kant on evidentiary approaches in 18th Century Bulgaria, or something, which I’m sure was of great interest to the academic that wrote it, but isn’t of much help to the bar.”
-Chief Justice John Roberts

“Most [law professors] are incapable of working as my copy boy / copy girl, let alone as real attorneys. What would they do if all of a sudden, the fourth tier was shut down (as it should be) and then the competition for all lawprof jobs got a lot more stiff? You can bet your ass that professors who teach ‘critical crybaby studies and vegetarianism’ would be where they belong, cleaning toilets.”
-Marc Randazza


Cooley, New York Law School hit with lawsuits from former students

August 10, 2011

By J. DeVoy

Two lawsuits were filed today in New York and Michigan against New York Law School (not to be confused with New York University School of Law) and Thomas M. Cooley Law School, respectively.  The plaintiffs, former students of the two schools – which have been in at least the bottom half of U.S. News & World Report’s rankings for as long as I can recall – claim that the schools “knowingly inflated employment and salary statistics to recruit and retain students.” (source.)  Moreover, the article is unclear which of Cooley’s four campuses were sued, but presumably all of them were, including its nascent Tampa outpost.

At the heart of the lawsuit is a question of classification.  The plaintiffs allege that NYLS and Cooley knowingly misclassified students in part-time or temporary jobs as “fully employed,” benefitting from the appearance of employment rates higher than they actually were.  Logically, these employment rates were part of the reason students attended those schools, and thus the schools’ alleged inflation of these employment rates made it easier to attract prospective students and their federal student loans… or so the theory goes. (source.)

The Bloomberg article notes that Cooley is suing the plaintiffs’ firm for defamation related to blog comments it made about Cooley’s business practices. (source.)  In an odd twist of irony, NYLS’ apparently outgoing dean, Richard Matasar, has been an outspoken critic of legal education’s flaws while simultaneously engaging in the practices that leave it so broken, including tuition hikes, dramatically increasing class sizes, and a myopic focus on investing in facilities. (source.)

Some may be cheering that this day has come.  I regret that it has, as the ABA should have been a better steward to the profession and prevented legal education from reaching this point.  Admittedly, it is no easy task, especially with the DOE falling over itself to give hundreds of thousands of dollars of non-dischargable debt to anyone with a pulse, but it must be done.  If the ABA lacks the fortitude to tell some people “no, you cannot be a lawyer,” it should outsource its spine to the American Association of Law Schools (“AALS”).  While trading the ABA for the AALS as an accreditation body may be trading one set of problems for another, at least the AALS has standards (theoretically) and sees the devastation wrought in other education sectors by for-profit toilets and fly-by-night schools concerned more by their own earnings and existence than the detritus they spew into the world – and the young lives they ruin in the process.

Needless to say, a segment of the legal education community likely will follow these cases with considerable detail.  It is, however, an issue with broader implications.  Hey CoOp – this affects your jobs and the legitimacy of the institutions that employ you.  Pay attention to it.  Stop letting the ABA turn your institutions into profit mills while you eat lotus flowers and philosophize the day away.  Even if these lawsuits do not achieve their intended objectives, they finally shine a light on the high cost of worthless graduate education, and the extent to which some programs will conceal their utter failure.


NYT on Law School Economics

July 18, 2011

By J. DeVoy

Just weeks before the bar exam, the New York Times craps all over the nonsensical economics of legal education.  Based on the Times’ research, US News rankings play a surprisingly large role – and one much larger than the relevance such rankings actually have in practice. (“Oh, you went to Vanderbilt instead of Boalt? I’m not even going to bother replying to your opposition. Guffaw!” /sarcasm.)

While the anti-law school undercurrent has been building for years (see Randazza’s post from 2009), this represents one of its deeper treatments.  Moreover, it’s one of the few inquiries into the law school market failure made by a news outlet of national predominance.


Law School Career Counseling

March 22, 2011

ABA mulls dropping LSAT requirement

January 13, 2011

By J. DeVoy

Once upon a time, professions had meaningful barriers to entry.  The inability to participate was not a mark of personal failure for the unsuccessful applicant, but an indicia of the profession’s selectivity, a characteristic retained largely for the public’s benefit.  One such guild was the ABA — until the mid 1990s.  Around that time, Janet Reno put a vise grip on its balls with the DOJ, making it enter into a consent judgment that required the ABA reduce the hurdles needed to enter law school.

The aftershocks to this consent decree have been clear for the last decade.  New schools constantly open at a rate of approximately 10 for every one that should actually exist (U.C. Irvine gets a pass).  Rudimentary legal work that, while low value, provided experience to new attorneys, is shipped off to India without requiring India to make a single concession back.  The ABA won’t carte blanche refuse to accredit overseas law schools.  And now, all but knocking down the last piece of battered fence keeping the teeming hordes out of law school, the ABA is considering making the LSAT optional.

On one hand, the LSAT is an arbitrary measure of potential with tangential relation to skills needed to compete in law school.  Like everyone, I too know smart people who bombed it and idiot strivers who did well after studying for three years.  I also know smart people with good scores and dumb people with appropriately bad ones.  As bad as the system may be, there is a need to group people roughly by cognitive ability and order them – something easily done by the LSAT’s 120-180 point scale.  When coupled with GPA, people of similar ability are, on paper, put together and then sorted into the academic institutions that best suit their ability.

To the extent the LSAT has value outside of an applicant’s score, it demonstrates the commitment to study for and take a test that could run an applicant several hundred dollars in expenses.  Law school applications, compared to PhD and even MBA processes, are a joke.  LSAC allows you to upload essays to its site and batch-process them with applications to several schools.  Virtually no school requires more than three essays, including optional ones that address diversity and interest in the school.  Considering that most colleges are bad and a high GPA can be manufactured with a series of intro-level courses, the LSAT is the only difficult thing about applying to law school.

The beneficiaries of this process will be law schools, like the colleges that dropped the ACT/SAT requirement before it.  Thousands more people will pay application fees directly to schools with the unfounded hope that they can gain admission.  If the system works as the starry-eyed applicants hope, either bar exam passage rates will plummet or school dropout rates will greatly increase.  It does not take much of a logical leap to see that the people to whom this prospect would be most appealing are also the most likely to bomb the LSAT, and want to preempt a bad score (despite a policy change a few years ago that allows for multiple retakes without penalty).

Ultimately, the LSAT will still be the best predictor of law school aptitude, even if an objectively bad one, but allow schools to admit more subjectively interesting candidates without this admissions priority being reflected in its LSAT or GPA reporting.  The same kind of Worldcom-style accounting that controls employment reporting for law schools will come to its admissions statistics as well.  Beyond defeating the utility of sites like lawschoolnumbers.com, this decision would make admissions a black box process at schools that choose to go along with it.

By obfuscating student quality, the employment prospects all but 5-10 elite schools would suffer, as employers would not be sure just what quality of students they were getting.  While a law school has time to pay its recent graduates $8/hour to sift through applicants who couldn’t be bothered to take the LSAT and find the touchiest, feeliest application of them all, a law firm does not have that luxury.  Nor does it want to.  The best thing a lawyer can have is information, and for law schools to deprive employers of that vital resource is a disservice to its students.  Nobody, rationally, would buy something of unknown contents or quality.


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