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.

Only the ABA….

January 5, 2011

The ABA has finally acknowledged that the legal profession is in a tailspin by publishing The Value Proposition of Attending Law School. The document essentially just says that law school is really expensive, salaries are not as high as prospective law students think, and that most people who go to law school will graduate into a lifetime of being screwed.

Noticeably absent the “The Value Proposition,” is the ABA’s hand in this mess.

Yes, the ABA — that festering slop bucket of do-nothing bozos who stamped their seal of approval on every head injury clinic that wanted to call itself a law school, as long as its faculty and administration dropped to their knees and fellated the ABA’s absurd “educational” requirements. The ABA, the same organization that gave accreditation to Liberty, Regent, and Ave Maria indoctrination centers for the developmentally disabled. Yes, that same ABA.

This is the same ABA that will not allow schools like the Massachusetts School of Law to bear the accreditation title because of outdated standards that have nothing to do with the quality of teaching at the school. Mass law is cheaper than most public law schools and churns out students who are taught by adjuncts — meaning people who have a goddamned clue how to practice law.

The ABA prefers that professors have no connection to the actual practice of law, and does not count a professor as a full time faculty member if they maintain a law practice. Because…. well, who would want to learn to do a thing from someone who actually does that thing?

This is the same ABA that said that there is nothing wrong with outsourcing legal work to the same boneheads in India who answer your customer service calls. (source). This is the same ABA that not only will accredit any toilet that plays its game, but that won’t even affirmatively state that foreign law schools can’t become accredited.

So remember, the ABA created a glut of law schools, which shat out a glut of law graduates. Then, blind to the glut, the ABA felched the ass of BIGLAW while kneeling on the profession’s chest by approving their plans to ship thousands of legal jobs to Mumbai. Now, they think that prospective students should watch out — that the market isn’t as good as they might otherwise believe.

And nowhere in this document do we find the ABA accepting responsibility for its heavy hand in this train wreck.

Fuck the ABA.

H/T: Harchuck

Advice to Law Students looking for a job — don’t be a goddamned crybaby

December 22, 2010

Popehat has a bad-ass post on an “incident” at Syracuse University School of Law. The short version is this: Syracuse Law student Len Audaer published a blog satirizing his class, the administration, and public figures.

From Popehat’s story.

Somebody complained. Syracuse decided to appoint a “prosecutor” to investigate the blog and determine whether to bring formal charges against Audaer under the Syracuse discipline system. All of that — the fact that someone complained about satire, and that the school didn’t immediately reject the complaint — is appalling enough.

But Syracuse, and specially appointed prosecutor Syracuse law professor Gregory Germain, are angry about the criticism and are doubling down. As is often the case, the attempted cover-up is worse than the initial conduct.

Professor Germain has filed a motion with the Syracuse disciplinary body demanding a gag order against Audaer and his defense team. He wants Syracuse to issue an order forbidding Audaer from disclosing the contents of his own blog, or anything he gets from the university about the proceedings against him, to any third party unless the third parties agree in writing (1) not to disclose the names of any of the people identified in those blog posts or documents without their consent, and (2) to publish the entirety of documents, not just quotes from them, “in order to prevent misleading selective posting of information.”

In other words, Professor Germain thinks that Audaer should be prohibited from sending FIRE, or me, or the Chronicle of Higher Education, or CNN, an unredacted copy of this blog post without the written permission of Ellen DeGeneres. Professor Germain also thinks that Audaer should be prohibited from sending FIRE, or me, or anyone else one of his own blog posts, or any document from the proceedings against him, unless we agree to Professor Germain’s preferred method of writing about it. Professor Germain explicitly demands censorship of documents as a method of getting the type of media coverage of the proceedings that he wants. Of course, no respectable reporter — and no self-respecting blogger, or American — would agree to present materials only in the manner that a censor demanded. Moreover, given an internet in which it is trivially easy for Syracuse and its supporters to host and publish the raw documents themselves, the demand for written guarantees of full publication as a method of achieving “fair” coverage is transparently dishonest and/or stupid. The gag order is deliberately calculated to prevent Audaer from distributing his blog posts and the documentation of his persecution at all.

Remember what the “misconduct” is — a satirical blog.

This profession is full of uptight effete fucking pussies with sticks up their asses. You know why? Part of it is because the profession seems to attract them. But, the bigger part of it is that law schools cultivate uptight stick in the ass pussydom. Of course, just like a good TSA agent, or other low-rung pussy, Professor Germain whines that he is “just doing his job,” and he just wants the individuals who whined to be able to maintain their anonymity.

The students, faculty and staff who were targeted in the sucolitis blog did not consent to have their good names used in the blog, and do not wish to be the subject of attacks on the internet. One of the students has expressed to the Prosecutor a concern for her physical safety. Most wish to find jobs in the legal profession, and feel that bringing further public attention through the publication of their names could damage their
employment opportunities, and would cause further humiliation and embarrassment.

Again, why write my own words when Popehat knocks the shit out of it:

Leave aside, for the moment, the ignorant and authoritarian proposition that people have some sort of right not to have their names used on the internet, and not to be “attacked” on the internet. Focus on this instead: Professor German suggests that the people satirized in the blog fear that having that satire spread further as a result of their own complaints about it would be unfair, because potential employers might see it and their feelings might be further hurt.

I interview, and hire, people at a law firm. I cannot imagine a situation in which I would decline to hire someone because they had been the target of satire. That’s because I’m not a fucking idiot. Perhaps the subjects of Audaer’s blog aspire to be hired by fucking idiots. It sure looks like they are going to the right school, then.

Syracuse’s excuse for a disciplinary system apparently protects the anonymity of accusers, and supports efforts to prevent the publication of their identity. That’s common with systems that have, as their true aim, the uncritical acceptance of accusations and the swift arrival at a predetermined conclusion of guilt. See, if you allow the identity of an accuser to become public, then all sorts of inconvenient things happen. They might suffer consequences for making false accusations. People might read about the case and come out of the woodwork and say “Vance Victim couldn’t have been assaulted by the defendant on Saturday night; I saw him passed out over at Delta house that night,” or “Vance Victim is the same guy who threatened to accuse me of assault twice last year”, or “Vance Victim is a person with a reputation for being a liar and a cad.” In short, That’s why protection of accuser anonymity is repellent and inimical to modern systems of justice.

But Professor Germain does have the kernel of a point about privacy. It’s just not the point he thinks he has. It’s irrational to think that employers will be put off because a humor blog satirized you. However, it’s entirely rational to fear that, if employers find out that you ran to the administration to complain about being satirized, they might not want to hire you. I would happily hire people of every color, religion, and sexual preference. I would hire Republicans and Democrats and Independents and Greens. But I would never, in a million years, hire someone who complained to his or her school administration about being the subject of satire. People who run to the authorities to complain about being the subject of satire are weaklings, crybabies, losers, and nasty censorious authoritarians. I view them as likely to be of sub-optimal intelligence, insufficient fortitude, and poor morals. Those are not the qualities of a reliable employee or a good lawyer. They are not people I want to hire or be friends with. They are people I want to ridicule and shun.


Now I don’t hire very often. When I do, I have a very strict “no fucking pussies” screening process. And, if you get past me, you are sure as shit not getting past my partner, Jessica, who is less tolerant of pussies than I am.

I will tell you one thing for certain: I won’t even interview a Syracuse Law graduate who doesn’t publicly speak out against this travesty, and I would encourage all other lawyers and law firms to take the same stance.

To follow this case more:

Len Audaer’s site on the case. (here)

FIRE’s file on the case. (here)

And if you’re looking for an end-of-the-year charity, donate to FIRE here.

Not wanting to do doc review called “immature” by “consultant” – follow the money and smell the bullshit

December 18, 2010

The ABA reports on Ann Israel, a “career consultant” who scolded a Yale Law graduate as “very immature” for wanting to know how to escape from document review purgatory. (source)
Here is his question:

I’m a Yale Law grad winding up a federal clerkship in a small legal market. I had a horrendous experience with document review a few summers ago, and my goal is to avoid it at all costs. Do you think I can use my credentials as leverage for avoiding this work as a condition of employment? Alternatively, if I show the partners at the firm that I am a fantastic writer, will that allow me to avoid document review? (source)

Israel’s answer:

There are plenty of attorneys in the major city offices who are not putting in enough hours and would love to be doing doc review versus the threat of being asked to look for another job. Wake up to what is happening out there in the real world! (source)

Just a little background on Ann Israel. She is apparently a time-traveler, visiting us from an age when her her website was cool. She is notoriously humorless, and Above The Law said this about her: “sometimes she seems more interested in shilling for legal recruiters than offering actual insight.” (source).

In other words, out of touch, uptight, and full of shit when being full of shit helps her make a buck.

Apparently, this “consultant” considered doc review to be “an aspect of legal work that needs to be done as part of the bigger picture of law firm life.” She wrote “there are plenty of attorneys in the major city offices who are not putting in enough hours and would love to be doing doc review versus the threat of being asked to look for another job.”

That is a slave’s answer.

That is also an answer that confirms Above The Law’s evaluation that she’s more interested in shilling than helping. More power to her. If she can convince legions of desperate wanna-be-attorneys to thank her for helping her place them in shitty, dead-end, career-dooming doc review projects, then she’ll make more money condemning them to this circle of hell from which very few will ever emerge unscathed.

But, someone has to tell you that she’s full of shit. I’ll volunteer.

First of all, do you know what doc review pays? It varies, but how does $12 an hour sound to you? Work hard, and maybe you can even pull in $30 per hour, which isn’t terrible money for a recent graduate — as opposed to this gem, minimum ass-eating wage. Yep, that’s right, the Mexican guys hanging out in front of Home Depot will take home more money at the end of a day than that. I pay my babysitter more than that. I pay the guy who trims the hedges outside my house more than that. My wife pays our pool boy more than that — and we don’t even have a pool! (which is starting to make me suspicious).

And Ann Israel thinks that he is “immature” for wanting to avoid that.

Of course, it sounds like the unnamed Yale graduate is not likely to be working for minimum wage. It sounds like he thinks that he may wind up in Biglaw, but wants to avoid being relegated to the coal mines, with the minimum wage trolls.

Far from being “immature,” his concern is far-sighted. Lets face it, if you could get a job in biglaw, making $160,000 per year for standing in a room leafing through boxes of shit, alongside legions of law-zombies who are starving to death, well … that might just be an okay deal. The “immature” law graduate would jump at the opportunity to pack away that kind of cash, even if that means that they are working in conditions that even Upton Sinclair might find appalling.

Mirriam Seddiq, or as I call her "Ms. Freakin Awesome"

You want a mature perspective on Doc Review? Mirriam Seddiq has it:

A contract lawyer is someone who is employed by a temp agency to do work for a (usually) large law firm. The work consists of document review (usually) which means the lawyers (usually licensed meaning they can practice substantive law if they choose to) sit in a cubicle and go over documents (electronic or actual paper) and determine if they are privileged or relevant. You click off boxes on a computer. You might learn some new legal concepts but nothing in depth, just enough to make sure you are accurate when you go through your 1000 documents a day. I have always called it “walmart for lawyers” because it’s not really practicing law. It’s a job. It pays the bills. I might as well be working at Walmart except at a contract job I get to wear a stupid suit and heels and feel like I’m sort of lawyering. (source)

Of course, Seddiq is talking about contract lawyers doing doc review, not associates doing doc review, but the work is the same.

Jesus, I love this woman. Lets keep reading:

It’s a con. It’s not really lawyering and that’s the problem with contract jobs. They are truly meaningless. While it is important to pay the bills and put food on the table, you cannot claim to be a lawyer if all you do or have done is document review. I’ve done it. I did it for 6 months last year when I was just getting back to work. I did it for several months in 2005 when I had just moved to Baltimore. I get it. You’ve got to pay the bills. You’ve got a family to feed. So you find a contract job that has overtime because while 28 bucks an hour isn’t great 28 bucks plus time and a half gets you through the week. So you work 50 hours, maybe 60. At first you think, I’ll do this job and look for something else, or volunteer, or take on a traffic case or two. But you don’t. You sit your ass in that cubicle and hit shift F5 and before you know it a year has passed and while you have amassed no late fees on your credit cards and no overdraft fees on your bank account, you have also amassed no new skills. You have made money at the expense of making money in the future.

Look. The shit is hard. The economy is rough. I’ve been a trial lawyer my whole big girl life. This is a skill very few people have – give me a file today I can try it tomorrow. I figured when I wanted to go back to work the whole world would be clamoring for me. I was wrong. I’d been out of the game for two years and then all I had to offer was “contract lawyer”. While it showed I was working, it also showed that after two years at home all I could now do is get myself dressed in clothes not stained in spit-up. Because there is no actual lawyering involved in document review. I repeat. You are not practicing law.

I will not say that Ann Israel’s business card has no practical use to a law graduate in a tough economy. This is a good use for it:

At least if you use it that way, you’ll find that it can help you numb the pain of graduating into this shit-ass economy.

Now, if you actually want career advice, maybe you should call Mirriam Seddiq, because she seems to be her own woman (not shilling for the coal mines), she has the courage to call them like she sees them, and she’s been there.

Seddiq suggests that you might want to take that doc review job to pay the bills. I agree. There is no nobility in starving to death. But, Seddiq recommends giving up a day of doc review work here and there to get some actual experience.

My own advice, in addition to that, is that if you are currently doing doc review, you should do whatever you can to get out of it — NOW. That means taking less money to work for a small firm. That means doing pro-bono work. That means using your writing talents to blog, if you think that will help your career. Do whatever it takes to get out of doc review as fast as you can. Even being a paralegal is better than doc review, because as a paralegal, you actually do learn a lot about the practice of law — experience that will be valuable once you’re a big grown up lawyer.

What the advice boils down to is this: Ann Israel is full of shit. She’s trying to increase her pool of candidates to fill shit-stain jobs that will eventually be outsourced to India and the Philippines anyhow (thanks to the useless fucks at the ABA). If you are a law graduate who thinks that you have anything to offer the legal profession, then don’t just listen to me. Listen to Mirriam Seddiq, a woman who has been there, and who has no profit motive in seeing you turned into a worthless, unmarketable, unskilled, inexperienced slave.

Yale Law Journal Logo

December 10, 2010

By J. DeVoy

Let’s see, a crocodile (or alligator) and what appear to be croquet wickets.  Are we sure it’s not just a glorified Lacoste ad?

An evening with Chief Justice John Roberts

October 22, 2010

By J. DeVoy

On Tuesday, October 19, John Roberts visited his home in Buffalo, New York, and gave an uncommonly intimate talk at Canisius College.  Rather than a lecture with a specific topic, Roberts sat down with Canisius alumnus and trustee (and Harvard Law grad) Joseph Hassett to discuss pre-selected questions by students and alumni.  In an unusual act of bravery, Roberts later took questions from the floor.

The Chief Justice led off with a discussion of the Court’s technological advancements.  Transcripts from oral arguments are now posted at the end of the day of argument, with audio recordings available on a 3-5 day delay.  While not going so far as to allow live broadcast – something Roberts acknowledges has positive and negative aspects – this is a step forward for the historically stoic institution, which by its very nature is resistant to sudden or unproven changes.

Roberts then took an on stage seat opposite Hassett and began his dialogue.  The rough highlights are as follows:

Most decisions are not difficult, controversial or particularly contentious.

Many of the Court’s decisions are unanimous or with little question as to their outcome.  A great example from last term is U.S. v. Stevens, where only Alito dissented about the First Amendment protection of crush films.  Of course, the narrow decisions tend to be over sexy issues, like gun control and – surprisingly – campaign finance (though cast as a big business issue in FEC v. Citizens United), that already have captured the public’s attention.

Elena Kagan is a valuable addition to the Court and already participating constructively.

Despite a lack of experience at the appellate level, and a thin résumé as a practicing attorney, Roberts had kind remarks about Kagan.  Obviously, though, Roberts wouldn’t comment on the likelihood that Kagan will have to recuse herself from a number of cases likely to come before the court, or how her true prowess as a Justice has yet to be revealed to the public — Kagan has yet to publish a single opinion as the mouthpiece of any court.

Nonetheless, the nomination process for Supreme Court Justices is pointless.

Ironically, this is an indictment many made of Roberts for painting himself as an independent centrist when his record of decisions puts him squarely in the court’s conservative bloc.  Roberts was probably telling the truth during his confirmation hearings, and likely does view himself as an independent centrist… as did Sotomayor and Kagan when they described themselves similarly, despite their radically different jurisprudential perspectives.  Roberts’ point is that the system is broken – Harriet Miers excluded, the people nominated to the Court are qualified, and ensuing hearings are little more than regurgitating the same trope about being “independent,” “centrist” and “in the mainstream,” however starkly those claims clash with reality.

Pre-law classes are worthless.

Roberts went out of his way to condemn a pre-law curriculum, but carved out exceptions for classes that give undergraduate students grounding in basic legal concepts, such as a survey-level constitutional law or civics classes.  Describing a broad liberal arts-based education as the ideal foundation for later legal education, the Chief Justice wasn’t saying anything new.  For those unsure about a career in law, though, a broad liberal arts education probably doesn’t look great to potential employers.

It’s possible that the reality of the poor legal market for recent graduates hasn’t seeped up to his level of awareness, as Supreme Court clerks aren’t hurting for jobs, but Roberts made no mention of the bad conditions for starting attorneys.  But why would he?  If anyone is the profession’s standard bearer, it is him, and it would look bad for Roberts personally, the Supreme Court, and lawyers as a class if he began railing against (or merely acknowledging) for-profit diploma mills with anemic bar passage rates and employment statistics that are on life support.  We can do the dark bidding of the lord below and speak unvarnished truth about law as a profession on this blog, so it’s good for someone like Roberts to be the stately public face of an esteemed vocation.

Clerkship hiring will likely continue to be restricted to the top schools.

When asked about the hiring of his judicial clerks, Roberts said he relies on recommendations from other judges and faculty, as well as demonstrated excellence.  In fairness to Roberts, his roster of clerks has been more diverse than other Justices’.  Relative to peer schools Yale, Harvard and Stanford seem underrepresented, while NYU and Columbia are shut out to make way for graduates from George Washington, Vanderbilt, Berkeley and a surprising number of Virginia graduates.  Though not as willing to deviate from the t14 as Justice Thomas, Roberts has already had marked diversity in his clerkship hires.

Roberts shared an anecdote about the need for assertiveness in his clerks.  During one interviewing season, Roberts told his secretary to note any candidate who took one of the Krispy Kreme donuts he had available for guests in his chambers – either glazed or powder sugar – so he could immediately offer them the job.  Complicating Roberts’ job, nobody took a single donut.  Whether or not the story is true, it illustrates the need for potential clerks to have assertiveness in defending their positions in the face of smarter, more experienced and vastly powerful bosses.  And, if you are ever lucky enough to interview with Roberts, take the donut.

Most opinions – Supreme Court or otherwise – are crap.

When talking about his writing style, Roberts said that he tried to write for an educated lay audience, something he believed his predecessor William Rehnquist did as well.  Because the Supreme Court does not speak in one unified voice, though, it is difficult to ensure consistency across its decisions.  This problem is exacerbated across lower Federal Courts, and state courts are presumably like the Wild West in this regard.  With every judge or justice in the nation writing for a different audience and purpose, priorities, tone and depth may vary vastly and unpredictably.

Speaking of crap, the “living constitution” is ridiculous.

Roberts said that the idea of a living constitution doesn’t make sense.  In the same breath, he rejected the notion of textualism and mockingly called it a “dead constitution” perspective.  Ah, classic Roberts.  Though few would dispute that Roberts is closer to a textualist than a proponent of the living constitution, looking to social science and international law for guidance, he’s far enough away from being a strict constructionist in the mold of Scalia and Thomas for his statements to be true.

Social science is useful to the Court, but not too useful.

Responding to a question about the value of social science research in determining culpability, Roberts equivocated a bit, saying that it was valuable, but to a point.  Roberts acknowledged that it was helpful, but of limited utility.  Simply put, the Court lacks the ability to bore down into the science and its meaning with the ability of an expert in the science’s field.  While this kind of evidence may be useful to a case, relying on it for more than collateral support likely will not sway the Roberts court.

Undergraduate students ask terrible questions.

It was shocking that Roberts allowed for open questions and answers in a forum of 1,300 people.  As best as I could tell, few members of the bar approached the microphone to ask any.  Instead, the crowd was treated to a barrage of pointed questions addressing hot button issues, including:

-Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, and whether the Supreme Court would repeal it

-The propriety of Supreme Court Justices not attending the State of the Union address

-What he thought of a proposed Constitutional amendment enhancing parental rights

-What he thought of the imbalance between corporations’ and labor unions’ resources in obtaining political voice in the wake of FEC v. Citizens United.

At first, Roberts was polite about not answering questions that could come before the Court.  Though he was not apologetic about it – nor should he have been – he explained his refusal to answer.  By the second offending question though, he adeptly moved on to the next hopefully legitimate question, and smoothly put the offending participant in his or her place.  It was transcendent; it was more than adept, it was alpha.  Roberts’ years of wordsmithing and carefully avoiding other’s characterizations of him – and his words – were most obvious in those moments.  He put forth a strong frame of control, and refused to let anyone wrest it away from him.  Without denigrating any other aspect of the evening, those were the most impressive moments, and the most instructive as well.

The (legal, hyper-local) stars were out that night.

Without naming most names, as doing so on this blog probably would do more harm than good to their legal careers, many of the people who have shaped my legal education and career were present.  It was a pleasure, as always, to see them.  From catching up with a friend working on the contentious litigation for the control of Facebook in the Western District of New York, to hearing other law students tell me of their non-law business plans, the range of conversation did not disappoint.  Other attendees included Magistrate Judge William Schroeder, before whom I argued my first hearing in Federal Court, District Court Judge Richard Arcara, and Chief District Court Judge William Skretny, who administered Nevada’s Oath of Attorney to me the next day.  The driving force behind the event, though, was my unintentional mentor and vizier, Robert Klump, who has already received some coverage in this blog.  Without his efforts, the event never would have happened.

So You Want to Go to Law School?

October 20, 2010

H/T Kara Marie

Student Loan Slavery!

September 3, 2010

Way back when, they said “go to the best law school you can get into.” I say bullshit. You want a law degree? Go to the CHEAPEST school you can get into. Here’s an infographic on how student loans work.

H/T: Above the Law

Thank you Brent Newton – American Legal Education is Worthless

September 2, 2010

By Randazza and DeVoy

Brent Newton, an Adjunct Professor at Georgetown, wrote a law review article about how professors writing law review articles is a waste of time. The article, Preaching What They Don’t Practice: Why Law Faculties’ Preoccupation with Impractical Scholarship and Devaluation of Practical Competencies Obstruct Reform in the Legal Academy, is actually worth reading … which is rather unusual for a law review article.

my thesis is that it will not be possible to implement such proposed curricular and pedagogical reforms if law schools continue their trend of primarily hiring and promoting tenure-track faculty members whose primary mission is to produce theoretical, increasingly interdisciplinary scholarship for law reviews rather than prepare students to practice law. Such “impractical scholars,” because they have little or no experience in the legal profession and further because they have been hired primarily to write law review articles rather than primarily to teach, lack the skill set necessary to teach students how to become competent, ethical practitioners. (source)

That is a very polite and professional way of saying what I have been saying since the inception of this blog — law professors are a bunch of worthless gasbags running a ponzi scheme, and most (not all) should be dragged out into the street and have beehives shoved up their asses for the part they play in financially ruining thousands of kids a year — to say nothing for the destruction they help wreak upon the legal profession, which in turn leaves thousands of desperate lawyers who pull every manner of legal stunt to simply stay alive. Parasites breeding parasites. That is what most law professors are.

But back to Newton. His article is absolute blasphemy in the legal academy, and probably means that he will forever remain the sneered-at adjunct. I got that a lot when I was one — oh, you’re just an adjunct, not a professor.

Newton notes that adjuncts are the lowest of the low:

At the bottom of the order of law faculty are adjunct professors, who generally are treated like nobodies by the regular law faculty.

I am happy to report that this was not my experience when I was an adjunct at Barry. In fact, I was treated very well there by all my colleagues. But, once off that campus, especially when exchanging ideas with other “law professors” and particularly in the blawgosphere, that was the refuge they would run to during a vicious pwning.

Like the Indian caste system, a comparison Newton makes in his article, the academy delegates the “dirty work” to an immobile class of practitioners, adjuncts and other non-tenure track faculty.  Beyond schools’ Legal Research and Writing (LRW) curriculum, clinical programs remain the last bastion of useful hands-on experience in meeting deadlines, solving new problems and managing client expectations.

Despite providing some of the most value-added experiences most law students will have during their legal education, clinical professors lack the ability to attain tenure, or even full the same privileges and status of full tenure track faculty.  Even considering the value provided by clinical coursework, they remain optional at all but a few schools like Washington & Lee, which have adopted an intense practical curriculum.  This isn’t merely harmful for new lawyers, but potentially disastrous for their clients.

So let’s see what Newton shares some data with us about the experience levels of these “law professors” who sneer at adjuncts.

The amount of prior practical experience differed significantly by tier. For instance, for the schools in tier one, the median was 1 year and the mean was 1.92 years; 46.8% of the entry-level tenure-track professors hired by these schools since 2000 had no prior practical experience. Conversely, for the schools in tier four, the median was 6 years and the mean was 7.58 years; 85.8% of those professors had some amount of prior practical experience.

In other words, the higher ranked the school, the more worthless the professors — the less they actually know about the job they are teaching you to do. Next time someone makes fun of you for attending a TTT, maybe you should wipe the floor with them with the knowledge your TTT law professor gave you, while your top tier counterparts were learning from someone who was hired most likely on the basis of their skin color, gender, and how they managed to whine about both in law review articles.

Also contributing to this worthlessness is the over-academization of the legal academy.  A top J.D. isn’t enough anymore, and often needs to be supplemented with a Ph.D. – if not supplanted by one.

In the late 1980s, five percent of full-time law professors had Ph.D.s.  By the end of the twentieth century, 10.4 percent of new tenure-track hires had Ph.D’s (13.4% at “top 25 schools”). Just a decade later, by 2010, that percentage had grown significantly, particularly at the highly ranked schools. My own study of a representative sample of entry-level tenure-track professors hired between 2000-09 (excluding clinicians, LRW professors, and other “practical” faculty) revealed that 18.9 percent possessed Ph.D.’s in addition to or in lieu of a law degree. Professors with Ph.D.’s constituted 35.5 percent of such tenure-track faculty members hired since 2000 by the first ten schools in tier one of the USNWR rankings.

While a Ph.D. is an impressive investment of time – quality varies widely outside of the top programs in each field, and whether it’s worthwhile depends on individual levels of funding – it doesn’t help create better lawyers.  It doesn’t necessarily breed better faculty, either.  Just look who you get when you hire like that! (But, in all fairness, the best law professor I ever had didn’t have a JD at all — he had a Ph.D. only!)

For example, teaching law students about game theory is all well and good within the ivory tower, but it doesn’t help them, and may even hurt, if it’s done at the expense of skills like writing and critical thinking.  Those skills matter a hell of a lot more than being able to properly graph the probabilities frontier of settlement negotiations in a $35,000 case.  Try explaining that bill to your client.

Newton realizes that this characteristic, along with the homogeneity of the same ten schools producing most of the nation’s legal academy, creates a certain feedback loop.  Because only the top students from top schools are hired into the academy, judged by their experience in snagging elite clerkships and publishing in the highest ranked law reviews, there is scant room for practical experience.  Yet the system persists for a few reasons.  The first is economic: Fundamentally exclusive credentials, such as Court of Appeals or Supreme Court clerkships, are held by a vanishingly small group, and thus greatly valued by the academy.  The second is a matter of value justification, as faculty members who went to Harvard and published in the Harvard Law Review feel their escutcheon would be tarnished by hiring someone with lesser credentials, the legal academy’s equivalent to identifying with lepers as equals.

Even in the publishing of Newton’s article, which is forthcoming in the University of South Carolina Law Review, the class bias of legal academia is on display.  Like law schools, even law reviews are ranked.  Though the South Carolina Law Review outperforms the school’s US News ranking, it’s blasphemy for a piece as important as Newton’s not to be in the highest ranked publication it could have conceivably been in.  This is especially true as the traditional walk-of-the-penguins path from earning good grades in law school to being an associate at a well-heeled firm vanishes for many students, leaving them to rely on skills they never developed or had any idea they’d need.  But, surely, whatever critical theory shit about how federal land use law displaces quadriplegic Inuit lesbians from their native homes that took the place of Newton’s article in a more visible journal will be important – essential, really – in the history of legal thought.

We must thank Newton for making this point for all the reasons stated above.  Based on my experience in practice, where you go to school doesn’t mean much except what firms interviewed you at OCI.  While every school produces bad lawyers, the upper crust of legal education has no monopoly on creating good ones.

More importantly, the lack of vital skills afflicting new lawyers needs to be brought to all current and prospective students’ attention so they can take clinical coursework and ameliorate the gaps in their training.  Knowing that such deficiencies exist is the first battle in the war of legal education.  Too many law students assume that going to law school and passing the bar exam will be sufficient to practice, and the schools’ professors and administrators – themselves woefully inexperienced – do not do enough to correct this misconception.

Finally, this is an issue that affects all of us.  Tenured faculty live a life of symposia and leisurely thinking on the backs of the serfs, much like the Roman elites who drank wine all day and had orgies at night while the masses toiled and the empire crumbled.  Although individual students make the promise to pay $40,000 each year to subsidize this nonsense, and at 8.5% interest, we’re all paying for it now that student lending has become a government function — both for the principal and the inevitable default on junk loans taken out for nothing of value.

This should be the beginning of a slow clap for Brent Newton, and his gumption to write a piece that unites various threads that have been the zeitgeist of practitioners for years.  That the legal academy does not care to hear it is their own fault, and done at its peril.


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