An Apology

It has been a long time since I updated this blog, and since I made some friends among the scamblog community, I thought I should at least pop in and offer an explanation. For those of you that had started to get to know me, I apologize for bailing so abruptly.

The simplest explanation is that I simply got busy. I found that I was spending far too much time on the blog, writing posts and reading everyone else’s… and while I had some good, paying work to do, I couldn’t justify the time I was spending on this stuff. There were days I would spend much of an afternoon surfing these blogs, and neglecting some of the real, if boring work I had.

The more complicated explanation is that once I took a step back, I felt like my obsession with how I felt I had been wronged was unhealthy. It was just making me angrier and more resentful, and while those feelings are wholly justified, I do want to try to move forward. And I’m not sure dwelling on the past will get me there. My wife and I were discussing a recent case of injustice in the news, and she noted that sometimes there is no amount of money on earth that can compensate a person for a wrong they have suffered… you just have to recognize that life dealt you a cruel hand and move on. As hard as it is, I want to try to do that.

Does that mean I will do away with this blog? I don’t think so. For one thing, I like the fact that some of the things I wanted to share are out there for people to find. My story may not be unique or even all that interesting, but it is mine and I want it out there. I have also been pleased to see a lot more attention paid to the higher education bubble, including law schools, in the media. I may even try to start blogging here more frequently, highlighting some of those stories. I feel like if there is some attention being paid to this issue, I want to be there to help it along. Recognizing a problem is the first step to solving it. I just hope I can do it without dwelling too much on the past.

ATL had this story about a new law school to be opened in the North Texas region.

One of the rationales for the new school is that the North Texas region doesn’t have a ready supply of new law grads and employers have to recruit from elsewhere. I doubt it is hurting legal recruiting any.

Furthermore, these new schools inevitably start out at the bottom of the rankings totem pole. Will these desperate employers really go for local fourth tier graduates, when they can recruit desperate candidates from better schools farther afield? And if not, how does that change anything?

For new law grads who don’t have many employment options, under served regions can be a great place to start a practice. When I started my practice, I moved away from the city where I was working in doc review, which happened to have four law schools dumping graduates into the market, to a city an hour and a half away that had none. I felt like there was a much better opportunity to build a practice in a place that wasn’t completely saturated with new law grads.

What would higher-ed reform actually look like? How far down the chain do we need reform? I invite my readers to comment and perhaps we can put together some sort of outline for reforming higher education.

I know that most of the scambloggers and their readers are lawyers or law students, so first and foremost on our minds are things like dischargability of student loan debt, and transparency in the claims made by law schools. But the subprime student loan issue seems like the tip of a systemic iceberg.

We all recognize that a high school diploma is essentially worthless, a mere prerequisite to a college degree, which is almost equally worthless. Should higher ed reform start from the bottom?

If, as a nation, we recognized the perverse nature of our education system, shouldn’t we start with requiring high schools to teach to a higher standard? To teach practical skills, in addition to college prep? My rural high school had a trade school component, which I looked down upon as a college bound student. In retrospect, I wish I had taken some of those classes and had learned some kind of manual skill. If students acquired real skills in high school, perhaps this foolhardy suggestion that everyone needs a college degree would dissipate.

Universities also churns out a lot of worthless grads, particularly in the liberal arts and social sciences. How can public policy remedy this? Eliminate government backed loans for under performing students? Requiring schools to justify their programs to a government agency?

I think that we all recognize that the problem we encounter in the legal profession is a symptom of a system that is tainted, and that taint starts at the very bottom. I welcome your suggestions; let’s make this a conversation.

As soon as you are admitted to your state’s bar, you will most likely be inundated with a deluge of fees and bullshit. Besides law school itself, one of the biggest scams in the legal industry has to be the push for lawyers to participate in pro bono programs. I can’t stand it when associates at large firms talk about their pro bono projects or encourage me to “give back.” I do enough “pro bono” work for clients that don’t pay me, I spend enough of my time not getting paid, and what little I do earn goes straight to Sallie Mae.

The last thing I need to do is waste more of my time working for free because some elder lawyer with a six-figure salary decided to assuage his wealth-guilt by forcing the rest of us poor saps to work for his pet charity in some feeble attempt to rehabilitate his perceived negative public image. Feel guilty about being a wealthy lawyer? How about assuaging your guilt by throwing a bone to those in your noble profession who can barely make ends meet? How about turning a critical eye to the schools and universities that churn out more law grads than the market can absorb? Until then, take your pro-bono guilt trip and shove it up your ass.

I don’t know why some lawyers get such a boner telling other lawyers to give their services away for free. Spending someone else’s tax money isn’t true charity; neither is forcing other people to work for free in the name of your public image.

This skit could just as easily apply to law schools, especially the part about deflecting inconvenient interview questions. Sounds like something the Office of Career Services at any law school might advise.

Hmm. Apparently WordPress disabled embedding of video from Hulu. You can view the skit here.

Today, all across the US people will be grilling slabs of meat and drinking beer and watching fireworks, in celebration of our nation’s Independence. If you have been scammed by the higher education system into taking out government subsidized student loans, it is worth reflecting, how free are you? By exempting student loans from discharge in bankruptcy, the federal government has created a generation of indentured servants, their futures forever mortgaged for a worthless education they can never repay.

This post, at XelanBonn.com does an excellent job of stating the case:

By Xelan Bonn (June X, 2010) http://www.xelanbonn.com

You thought you were doing the right thing when you signed up for college and took on student loans. The thinking was, you would get a higher paying job and thus be able to pay your student loans easily. What you did not know is that you just signed up for a modern day debtor’s prison.

When a person runs into financial problems, they used to have a chance at redemption–a way to clear off their debts and thus be given a chance to become a productive member of society again.

The government devised the bankruptcy tool for America because under the Constitution, debtor’s prisons are outlawed. Yet the federal government has found a modern way to circumvent the law.

Private loans and other private debts are generally dischargable in bankruptcy. However, student loans cannot be discharged (as a practical matter). Both private and federal student loans are protected from being discharged, thus bankruptcy no longer offers equal treatment to all debtors and often has little or no effect of assistance to those with student loans.

Like the IRS, the federal government refuses to take its lumps like everyone else when it comes to bankruptcy and aspects such as taxes or student loans. The effect is, take out a student loan through the federal government, and the debt and its interest and/or penalities, like taxes owed, never go away until repaid in full.

Therefore, bankruptcy is near meaningless for students who typically find themselves forced into a modern-day version of debtor’s prison.

The student who defaults thus becomes a burden on society for decades, often through no fault of their own.

Their credit rating is permanently damaged, their opportunities reduced to near nill, their income highly limited–the effect is virtually permanent economic debtor’s prison from which there is no escape–and all because they took the gamble to try and improve their lives by getting a higher education.

Without the escape bankruptcy provides, students who default or otherwise are unable to repay their student loans, are thus omitted from becoming productive members of society or the real ability to secure self-redemption. Instead, they become permanent slaves to the federal government and credit bureaus that label them “unfit for society” by applying highly discriminatory “point system” rating practices that employers, landlords, and others use to apply against them—employment and housing opportunities are just two aspects of many where their lives are often ruined.

Making matters worse, private educational lenders have essentially the same rights as Uncle Sam—such private student loans never go away until paid. Bank of America, Chase, Sallie Mae, and many more student loan lenders or administrators have the very same indentured servant clause attached to their loans as the federal government—bankruptcy discharge is all but forbidden except in the rarest of cases.

Please read the whole thing. And realize that the fight against the law school scam has ramifications beyond just throwing a wrench in the plans of cocky 0L’s- if we can dissuade people from taking on excessive student loan debt for worthless degrees, we truly are saving them from a future of sadness and despair. The promise of America means little to those that are struggling to gain their independence from debt.

Reader Question

I got the following questions from a reader, and I thought I would post my reply for the benefit of other readers. It did occur to me that there might be some cognitive dissonance on the issue of solo practice; why I might recommend that path to others while admitting that I dislike the practice of law. This guy asked, so here you go.

Enjoying your blog. Questions:

1. About how many hours per week would you say you work?

2. How hard is it to concentrate on one boring legal task after another?

3. Since you were trying to get out, why would you recommend other lawyers go solo?

I think it makes more sense to take these in reverse order:

3: There are days when I don’t enjoy being a lawyer, but my primary motivation for wanting to leave the practice of law is pecuniary. I don’t make much money and I would jump ship for a job that paid a sum certain. I would also quit my practice for a position with another law firm, if it was a good move financially. The reason I suggested that readers consider a solo practice is because my guess is that many of them are in a position where they graduated and took the bar, and then could not find employment. If they are still committed to practicing law, i think that is a better move than working a non-legal job or doing doc review waiting for an opportunity to come along. I can’t think of anything worse for job eligibility than a large gap in legal work history. Although I don’t have any data to back it up, I doubt a lot of lawyers that tread water in non-legal careers have success finding legal work after a year or two. A solo practice forces you to learn the practical aspects of law that law schools don’t teach. It can be an unpleasant task, but you certainly learn faster than you probably would otherwise.

UPDATE: I also want to add that there is the potential to hit it big as a solo practitioner. There is an element of risk and reward that shouldn’t be discounted. I know a few solos who are doing quite well for themselves. I wouldn’t hold my breath, but one good case can turn your situation around. That is an incentive.

2. This is kind of a hard question to answer. Most of my matters are pretty different and I don’t encounter a whole lot of repetition (at least not on an hourly/daily basis.) Certain tasks are not particularly interesting (Wills, for example) but they are fairly easy and I know that I will be getting paid a certain amount when I’m finished. Money can be a big motivator, which I think is something that a salaried lawyer might not grasp in the same way a solo does. When your paycheck is contingent on you getting work done, there is some extra motivation there. I find myself less eager to do appointed work, because I know that I won’t be getting paid on those cases for six months or a year.

1. Really hard to say. Honestly, I try to work a pretty standard 40 hour week. Of course, there are times when I am really busy and work significantly more. When you have a trial or a deadline coming up, it is up to you to be prepared, and so you suck it up and put in as much time as you have to. There are times when I come in on the weekends (like today) to get caught up or check on a few things. However, if I don’t have to be in court or meet with a client, I can forward the phones and work from home. If I want to come in late, or leave early to mow the lawn, I can do it. An upside to a solo practice is that you have more flexibility in the hours you work. No one is tallying up my sick-hours or vacation days.