American Law Schools and the University of Phoenix: What is the difference?

I have been meaning to post about a law student who is taking his law school to court for the deceptive practices a good many law schools use to make people think that the law is a lucrative profession.

One blog I’ve taken a liking to is Above the Law. As you can see from the link, the website devotes itself purely to the reality or the not-so-pleasant side of both going to law school, and practicing in the so-called “Big Law” environment.

[More in a bit.]

You might have seen that New York Times piece, mentioned in the link, about how a lot of young lawyers are graduating law school with not many prospects and instead a lot of debt. And some young lawyers are now taking to going after their schools for deceptive practices, particularly whether the acceptance data and job placement ratios are mere puffing or, really, a kind of fraud or less “justifiable” deception.

This is interesting. In my day, the issues of law school bad practices went to trying to short-change you while you were still in, and usually with the subtext of political correctness in the background. Now the kids are going whole hog and saying that the whole thing is akin to a fraud, and they want their loans forgiven or their money back.

(I don’t know if they know that the loans can be forgiven after 10 years, if they go into public interest law of one sort or another. But hearing some of the debt numbers, like $200,000 or even $400,000, I figure these can’t be all from federally-backed student loans.)

Also in the news has been the University of Phoenix. It’s a private, for-profit school that is partly owned by the Washington Post newspaper.

U. of Phoenix has been in the news because Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa has been pointing out that this school and similar for-profit entities have been receiving a disproportionate amount of federal education subsidies. Where these subsidies have been loans, they are also disproportionately involved in defaults.

Some for-profit schools do not teach a remunerative trade. They just get the tuition money one way or another, and leave the students with loads of debt.

But look at that last paragraph, though. You can say the same thing about the contemporary law schools. And now, more and more people are.

I went to law school, but never really practiced. And on the loan front, I was a bit luckier: I went to Temple, which has the support of Pennsylvania and a faculty that is more geared toward practical law and public service. I still had to take out the federally-backed loans, (which were converted by me to Direct Loans in 1995–glad I read regulations as they are hot off the presses!) But I was not buried under a huge avalanche for a false promise. In the early ’90’s, it was about creating smaller mudpiles and jamming up “less diverse” students who also deserved a shot.

In Japan, I learned that most countries do not have this flowing honey pot of government money being lent out for every conceivable educational program. There are low-tuition schools, and it’s expected that those schools teach a functional thing. (Here, I am talking about the international expats I met, not necessarily the Japanese.)

What we are doing in America is setting up a lordship class of academic elite, who are being funneled billions and billions of dollars to make a nice little education empire and retire millionaires. Somewhere along the line, enterprising people / hustlers decided that you do the same model as a for-profit business. Why keep up the charade? is maybe one of their justifications.

Is America overlawyered? I am on the fence about that one. I think Big Law is a bit of a danger to our Republic. I think it’s become about as corrupt as our banks, and the people in it have a warped sense of what their role in our society should be. (They are too busy chasing after big money from the corporations, and too busy inflating their lawyer bills by, ehem, “aggressively challenging” even the most basic administrative task.)

Are the law schools cranking out too many lawyers? Yes, for the price. But no, if they cut their prices and the government opened up more avenues for recently-graduating attorneys to do things like help in loan foreclosure situations or, say, employment discrimination matters. Even simple breach of contract.

Heck, it’s clear that the federal benches are understaffed. The population of America went from 200 million to 300 million between 1967 and 2007. I doubt the federal bench went up 50%. The District of New Jersey used to serve a state of 7 million. Now it’s close to 9 million. What other federal district has the population of New Jersey’s? It ideally could be two districts.

I don’t think more lawyers means more suing. Ideally, more lawyers means more knowledge about, and appreciation for, what the law is supposed to be. Big Law is wrecking that the same way that Big Banking brought us the financial crisis, (with an assist from accounting’s Big 4), and Big Profit created do-nothing for-profit academies that teach unmarketable skills or no skills.

It will be interesting to see how that all plays out.

Now, it just sounds like wholesale robbery.

[Update 2/8: Today’s Above the Law has a post about how Cooley Law School (where the what’s?) claims to be the second best law school in America, after Harvard.

I think part of the problem is that judges let the powerful lawyers say and do anything, and so this attitude filters into the law schools . . . ]