The TL;dr View from the Inside

Whether you agree with Inside the Law School Scam, by Colorado Lawprof Paul Campos, in whole or part, it is undeniable that he’s caught the attention of others in the legal Academy.  In the same vein, he’s become the voice of, cult hero to, a great many law students and new lawyers who are deeply dissatisfied with their choice of education, their alma maters and the concept of law school altogether.

It wasn’t long ago that he was brand new, a mystery lawprof revealing the ugly inside secrets of the legal Academy.  When he came out, he was reviled and ridiculed by his peers.  While a great many still despise what he writes, he has become a force to be reckoned with and, despite the facially dismissive reaction of many scholars with deeply vested interests in the status quo, he has moved the conversation sufficiently that even Case Western Reserve Law Dean Lawrence Mitchell, in his  ode to rainbows and law school felt constrained to acknowledge that it was, at least in part, in response to the success Campos has had in opening students’ and lawyers’ eyes.

Campos is no longer the new kid on the block, having written “421 posts, consisting of 317,489 words, supplemented by 37,480 comments.”  Of course, the vast majority of the comments were written by the same person, Anonymous, reflecting the law students’ conundrum, how to express every critical thought without having to bear any responsibility for it.  After all, life is tough enough as an inchoate lawyer without having to suffer for ones beliefs.

In honor of his 421 posts (round numbers are for kids), Campos has written an Executive Summary, an ironic title indeed.

It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it.  — Upton Sinclair —

This is why your law school charges what it charges.  This is why your professors believe sincerely in the “value proposition” of what they have to offer.  This is why nothing ever changes, until it does.

If something cannot go on forever, it will stop.  — Herbert Stein —

When the price of something increases and its value decreases, at some point people will not pay for that thing any longer.

Debts that can’t be repaid won’t be.  — Michael Hudson —

That someone lends you money does not mean there is a reasonable probability that you will be able to repay that money.  It only means that someone is making money from loaning you money.

While literary references add an air of erudition to his points, most leave the nagging sense that they’re insufficiently precise or comprehensive to take too seriously. But then, bear in mind this is the TL;dr version. Campos provides many more nuggets, and they’re worth your time to read.

His blog is dedicated to revealing the faults of law schools, which is certainly a worthy endeavor.  But for lawyers, it’s not nearly as satisfying as it is for law students or unemployed new lawyers burdened with student loans and a sense of a future of misery.  While it tells an important story, it’s not the whole story.  The readers adore Campos’ ripping apart of legal academia, but they aren’t nearly as fond of having their own mistaken sense of entitlement, ignorance and poor judgment revealed. 

Of course, the narcissism of youth is only surpassed by the narcissism of law professors, who disdain the role of teacher because it interferes with their self-image as scholars, whose work is to think deep thoughts and write brilliant law review articles that will change the world and get their bust placed next to Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

And then there’s the perspective of the profession, practicing lawyers burdened by the interminable whining combined with the meager performance and absence of work ethic.  The law students cry about not having a job, but then try our patience by mailing it in to see if anyone notices.

Nowhere in the myriad complaints is there any mention of, or indication of concern for, clients. One of the most disturbing aspects of the scambloggers’ creed is that the legal profession exists to make their law school investment pay off, provide them with a comfortable life and a sufficiently secure future to justify the couple hundred thousand dollars of debt they carry.  Nobody ever mentions that this all exists for one purpose, and one purpose only: to serve clients.  It’s a sad omission.

Much of what Campos writes strikes me as quite true, even if inadequately comprehensive.  It’s part of the problem, and thus part of the solution.  Many lawyers who read about our next generation’s concerns aren’t terribly sympathetic, responding with such useful observations as “I went through it, so stop your whining and get to work.”  This ignores the fact that our beloved ABA and law schools created a bubble, funded by obscene and unjustifiable tuition, as a trap for the unwary.  And a whole lot of nice kids, often pushed by clueless parents who vaguely recall a time when lawyers were part of an honorable profession, got caught in the middle.

I’ve argued for a long time that this is a very real problem, and while the students (and their parents) may well be at fault, that’s not a good reason to let them rot.  But the problem isn’t just law school. The problem isn’t just legal education. The problem is system, from the just-accepted 0L to the lawyer who will retire today.  And the solution won’t come in nuggets, one cute TL;dr bite at a time, with each special interest arguing that their pet peeve is “the real problem.”  They’re all real problems. They’re all part of a larger problem. And if all of us, law students, new lawyers, lawprofs and practicing lawyers don’t get into the game, it’s going to be a fiasco for all of us.  And the person who will suffer the worst for it will be the only person who matters: the client.