Congratulations, Mr. Zack

[This is an actual e-mail I sent to the new ABA President, Stephen Zack]

Dear Mr. Zack,

Congratulations on your new position as President of the American Bar Association.  Now, get to work.  Tens of thousands of attorneys have had their careers derailed and we needed a solution yesterday.  The ABA’s response to the recession has been abysmal.  Real leadership requires more than resolving that the economy is bad and creating a committee to say “Gee, it’d be great if things were better.”  Talking about action is not action.

Think the ABA is taking real action to help all the unemployed attorneys out there?  Hey, you guys made a Jobs Board, right?  That’s something.  Have you actually visited it?  Here’s a link for your convenience: http://jobs.abanet.org/jobs

Okay, did you go?  Did you look at the number of entry level positions listed?  1!  That’s not very many.  I mean, I might be wrong here, but I’m pretty sure a lot more than 1 person graduated from law school this May.  After all, there are 200 law schools, so at least 200 people probably graduated.  And what is that one job?  Oh, it’s a part time position.  Cripes!  That means there’s actually less than one entry level job.

And it only requires a high school education!  Oh my.

Here’s a link to a site that has more legal job opportunities than the ABA Jobs Board: http://craigslist.org/ That’s somewhat embarrassing, right?

So, what can you do to help all the unemployed lawyers and law students who are facing grim employment prospects?  I mean, you can’t actually create jobs from thin air or make debt burdens disappear.  Well, as an administrative partner at a major law firm, you probably can, but no one is really expecting you to do that.  All we ask for is a genuine effort in improving the profession.

See, you have this thing called the bully pulpit. You know how you got to stand up and declare once and for all that Atticus Finch is really quite a stellar person and a nifty lawyer to boot?  You can actually use that same pulpit to make more substantive decrees.  Cool, right?

To help you get started, here are a few things you can declare that might help bring some positive change to the profession:

1.  Fraud is bad.  Law schools probably shouldn’t do it.

Here are some examples:

(a) Duke claims that its graduates have 100% employment.  100%.  In a recession.  How did they pull that off?  They bribed organizations to give graduates temporary positions for meager wages ($3000 a month).  Is the 100% figure technically accurate?  Sure.  But is claiming 100% employment when you have to pay people to take your grads until the 9 month mark intentionally misleading? Oh hell yes.

Of course, most law schools play a similar game.  They publish rosy employment statistics while ignoring the fact that the data is based on self-reporting and unemployed or underemployed graduates are less likely to report.  And, many schools publish their 9 months employment data without actually following up with students to see if they’re still employed.  Instead, they only check in with those who were unemployed at graduation.  What you don’t know can’t hurt, right?

(b) Pittsburgh Law recently posted a welcome letter to its new students.  In that letter Dean Crossley mentions some of the new classes being offered, among them Corporate Finance.  But, if you look at the school’s course catalog you might find a strange anomaly.  Corporate Finance isn’t being offered this year.  In fact, it’s only offered once every other year.  The incoming students to whom the letter was addressed will only have a chance to take this class during their 2L year, and if you know anything about how lotteries and 3L priority work, you’ll know that if there’s much demand for this class there’s a good chance the incoming 1Ls won’t ever have the opportunity to take it.

In fact, many schools routinely claim “opportunities” to take a wide variety of classes, but given how rarely they are offered, small class sizes and possible scheduling conflicts, many students won’t actually get to take the classes they want.  Yeup, $20,000 a semester and you don’t get a real choice in what classes you take.  Bet they don’t tell you that on an admitted students weekend.

(c) On the page for its Lawyering Program, NYU says “carefully structured peer review enhances motivation, for students work with the knowledge that their efforts will be thoughtfully scrutinized, both by faculty and by peers.”  What they don’t tell you is “Not only will you not be evaluated in your performance on the largest project of the year, but your professor won’t even be there to see your oral argument! LOL!”  Seriously, they make no effort to evaluate your performance on the largest project of the year.  I guess “thoughtful scrutiny” means “thought about scrutinizing, decided not to.”

That’s just the stuff I came up with off the top of my head. I’m sure there’s a lot more going on.  Wouldn’t it be swell if like…I don’t know…you asked law schools to stop?  You don’t even have to put together a commission or hold meetings.  You can, today, just ask law schools not to commit fraud any more.  They might continue, but it would at least be a nice start to just remind them that what they’re doing is bad and hurts their students.

2.  Ethics are good.  Get more of them.

What are some ways law students and law schools engage in unethical behavior?

(a) 45% of law students self report that they’ve cheated while in law school.  (http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=newsarchive&sid=aw7s9m0BmcBo)  45% is a lot, especially when you consider that most law schools grade on a curve.  And, given how important grades are to securing employment, this is a pretty serious problem.  What have law schools done to address this problem?  Pretty much nothing.

(b) Seriously, they’re doing pretty much nothing.  In fact, when students are caught plagiarizing papers and professors want to punish their students, law school administrations have been adopting a policy of “look the other way.”  (http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/law_prof_says_more_students_are_plagiarizing_paper/)

(c) Professors assign their own textbooks.  Or, as Quinn Emanuel partner Bill Urquhart might put it: CHECK YOU CONFLICT OF INTEREST.  Really, the law of property hasn’t changed that much in the past three years.  You don’t need to issue a new edition of your text book, but thanks for destroying the used book market and driving up the debt load of your students.  Also, professors really should give their students free copies of any course supplement they write.  I think if you’re paying $20,000 a semester you should get the whole course and not have to shell out another $50 for all the good stuff that’s going to be on the exam.  Only one bite at the apple, please.

3.  Law school is very expensive.  It should be less of that.

Here are two ways to dramatically lower the costs:

(a) Make law school a two year program.  What is the justification for requiring me to go for three years if I can fill up my second and third year with classes like The Magic Mountain Reading Group (http://www.law.harvard.edu/academics/courses/2009-10/?id=7020) or The Past and Future of the Left (http://www.law.harvard.edu/academics/courses/2009-10/?id=7003)?  Let students who take a course load of substantive law classes graduate in 2 years.  You’ll cut the costs of attendance by more than a third (one less year accumulating interest on your loans, and the third year is the most expensive due to tuition increases), and give students one year less of opportunity costs.  Just imagine how many more people would take public interest jobs if they could actually afford to!

(b) Ask deans and professors to take a pay cut until their students are back to being employed in reasonable numbers (and pass the savings on to current students and recent grads).  The average dean salary is about $330,000, and full professors average around $200,000, not to mention any extra money they make from text book sales or moonlighting as a consultant.  (http://taxprof.typepad.com/taxprof_blog/2007/02/more_on_judge_a.html)  It’s pretty distasteful to increase tuition at your school during a recession when your graduates are unemployed or facing pay cuts.

Not that professors should have to live like their students, but if you have an apartment that costs over $5 million (http://abovethelaw.com/2007/09/lawyerly-lairs-back-to-school/) and your grads are forced to move back in with their parents, maybe it’s time to give the kids a break.

I know you want your administration to focus on the four goals you mentioned in your speech on Monday, preservation of the justice system, civic education, protecting human rights, and preparing for disaster, but let me remind you that as a profession disaster is already upon us, and if you’ll check the ABA Mission Statement (http://www.abanet.org/about/goals.html?gnav=global_about_mission) you should note what Goals #1 and #2 are: Serve Our Members and Improve Our Profession.

Tens of thousands of unemployed or underemployed attorneys are out there and the ABA is only able to locate 1 entry level position and 29 lawyer jobs.  Maybe, at a minimum, at least try to double this number.  Okay?  Thanks.

Sincerely,

[BL1Y]

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6 Responses to “Congratulations, Mr. Zack”

  1. wlmingtonwave Says:

    hah…I can’t wait for the response, but in that regard I think I may be thwarted…

  2. es Says:

    response: tl;dr

  3. Nando Says:

    Carolyn Lamm responded to his last letter, when she was ABA “president.” I hope you post his response, if he sends one. I am sure it will be full of stupid explanations and horsecrap, but what else can you expect from these Biglaw puppets? Isn’t it richly ironic that the entry-level position with the ABA only requires a high school diploma?! Nice research into this.

  4. me Says:

    This site is hilarious. Everyone loves capitalism until it bites them in the ass. It’s not the ABA’s job to find you employment. The economy has spoken: your services are not needed.

  5. Auskunft Says:

    Me: you are absolutely correct. I don’t think BL1Y has ever said otherwise. Not once. You da man. I think the point of this site is that the ABA and law schools shouldn’t lie to people about the fact that our “services are not needed.” People are sold a bill of goods that doesn’t exist, and they are connived and cajoled into dumping tons of money and time into these institutions when their “services are not needed.” Yes, I think that people should do more research and whatnot on their own before enrolling, but they are being advertised something blatantly false. I think the point of this site is to point out such lies and present the truth. And if it is done sarcastically and while drunk so much the better.

  6. bl1y Says:

    Auskunft is absolutely correct. I believe in capitalism. I don’t believe anyone owes me a job.

    But, I also believe that people are right to be upset if they spend 3 years and $100,000+ on an education that ultimately turns out to be useless. Saying they’re just entitled brats is a strawman.

    Almost all of us are willing to take shitty, low paying jobs, pay our dues, and work our way up (though we also think law school should count as part of our paying our dues part). What we’re pissed off about is that law students and recent grads get screwed at every turn.

    Law schools have the right to teach bullshit classes and not prepare their students (so long as they don’t make fraudulent claims about what they’re offering), and employers have the right to can an at-will employee two months after starting. But, no one has the right to be free from criticism when they’re incompetent assholes (hey, including me).

    The new generation has every right to petition and campaign for change as much as the old generation has the right to try to keep things the same way.

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