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A fool and his money are soon parted

David Ziemer

David Ziemer

The key to remaining young at heart, I believe, is to find amusement in human stupidity, rather than defaulting to furious.

I think I’ve done fairly well by that metric. But it is awfully hard sometimes. Consider an article in the Jan. 8 issue of The New York Times http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/09/business/09law.html by David Segal, entitled “Is Law School a Losing Game?”

The thesis of this awful piece of drivel is that law school is “three-card monte, with law schools flipping the aces and a long line of eager players, most wagering borrowed cash, in a contest that few of them can win.”

Exhibit A in the article is a recent law school grad who has more than $250,000 in student loans and can’t find a job.

It’s apparent why from reading the article. Exhibit A went to some fourth-rate law school called Thomas Jefferson because it was in San Diego, and he thought he’d like the weather. He ran up additional debt during school to spend a month in the South of France and another in Prague.

Then Exhibit A went back to New York to look for a job. I don’t know about you, but if I was a sole practitioner here in Milwaukee, looking to hire an associate, I am not going to hire someone from beach bum law school in San Diego. Does anyone really think that a hiring partner at some high-paying firm in New York would?

Exhibit A didn’t learn anything in law school, either. Listen to this: “Sometimes the banks will threaten to sue,” he says, “but one of the first things you learn in law school, in civil procedure class, is that it doesn’t make sense to sue someone who doesn’t have anything.”

Listen, jackwagon – I took civil procedure in law school. I teach CLE courses on new developments in civil procedure to lawyers who wouldn’t give you the time of day. I find civil procedure wonderfully thrilling. But at no point in civil procedure did I or anyone else learn that you can’t get blood from a turnip. You learn that the first time you loan money to a drug addict.

Had the Times article been written by a person with even a modicum of perception, he’d have written an entertaining article, using Exhibit A to demonstrate human folly (in short, what I’m doing here). But instead, the thesis of the article is that somehow the law schools are at fault, because they lie to prospective students about the job prospects of their graduates.

I’m sure they do. But it is not as if this is news. It’s been common knowledge for years that graduates of fourth-rate law schools have few options.

Yet, the author apparently expects us to pity someone who ignored these warnings and nevertheless incurred massive debt to attend one.

As readers of the Wisconsin Law Journal, you are all more sophisticated than the naïve readers of the Times, so I don’t need to explain how real life works to you; but I’m going to do it anyway, lest someone pondering law school comes across this column.

You sign up for the LSAT, you study for it, and you take the test. If you do well enough to get into a good law school, you go. Then, you work very, very hard.

If you do not do well on the test, or if you’d rather play beach blanket bingo in San Diego or the Riviera than study hard, then you find something else to do with your life.

Yet the Times apparently thinks I should feel sorry for those who don’t understand this.

Sorry. I am not Mr. T, and I do not pity the fool.

At least Exhibit A’s girlfriend doesn’t seem to mind. According to the article, “she hopes that he does not wind up in one of those time-gobbling corporate law jobs,” because “We like hanging out together.” Well, la-di-da.

There is one sensible person quoted in the Times article – Indiana University law professor William Henderson, who says that to solve the problem, a bunch of lower-tier law schools will need to close.

The American Bar Association has other ideas, though http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2011/01/14/aba_may_end_requirement_that_law_schools_use_lsat. A majority of the members of a special ABA committee studying this problem wants the ABA to drop its requirement that accredited law schools require applicants to take the LSAT.

As if there aren’t enough fourth-rate law schools in this country, they think we need some fifth-rate ones.

I am not amused. As Tom Smykowski asks in the movie “Office Space,” “What the Hell is wrong with you people?”

17 comments

  1. Bravo!

    Terrible lawyers have graduated from great schools, and good attorneys have come from lesser-ranked schools. Law school is very much a self-directed effort. You get out of it what you put into it. If you do just enough to get through, expect incredibly mediocre outcomes. Lowering the bar (no pun intended) for law school candidates won’t change that.

  2. Thanks for pointing that out, Ron. I wouldn’t want anyone to think I’m saying that anyone who went to a lesser-ranked law school can’t become a great attorney — only that they better expect to make it on their own. No one’s going to be impressed and just throw money at their feet.

  3. Spoken like a true Federalist! What your article seems to suggest is what the ABA has been doing since its inception, keeping law beyond the reach of those that you deem “fourth-rate.”

    Since your initial post I see that you have pulled back a little on the rhetoric stating instead that, “I wouldn’t want anyone to think I’m saying that anyone who went to a lesser-ranked law school can’t become a great attorney — only that they better expect to make it on their own.” I do not know if this is to infer that those who go to top ranked law school do not need to make it on their own. If it does, this is a sad commentary. As I state infra, the law is the law and people should be hired on talent not pedigree. Your new statement also conflicts your previous statement that “[i]f you do not do well on the test . . . then you [should] find something else to do with your life.” This seems to infer that those who do not take the LSAT are somehow not qualified to be lawyers. Again, an unsupportable position that I could quantify with statistical data, but I am quickly running out of room.

    That said; I am finishing my third year at what you and the ABA term a “third-rate” law school. My total law school expense was less than $100,000; $14,900 a semester. In past years I have competed against “first-rate” law school students in national law competitions and won. I also have fellow students from my “third-rate” law school who have done the same. The law is the law and the bar is the bar. Your opinions are elitist and self-righteous.

    What interests me is what motivated you to write your article. My motivation was easy, I saw a narcissistic ‘jackwagon’ who looks to demonize the people who find flaws in the process that protects him. You say that you find “amusement in human stupidity, rather than defaulting to furious,” and that you have “done fairly well by that metric” but it is “awfully hard sometimes.” I am sorry that public discourse about the staggering costs of a legal education set against the backdrop of a recession and the push to outsource legal work make you “furious.”

    Speaking of metrics, why not post some authority to support you premise? The New York Times and the ABA have both used statistical metrics to support their positions. You cite yourself. Statistics might not be the most reliable form of support, but they are much better than “according to David Ziemer.”

    You cite yourself as a Civil Procedure expert noting that you “teach CLE courses on new developments in civil procedure to lawyers who wouldn’t give [Exhibit A] the time of day” and that you “find civil procedure wonderfully thrilling.” It appears that by teaching CLE’s on the “new developments in civil procedure” you may have forgotten some of the older rules, like Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b).

    “[Rule] 60(b) strongly indicates . . . that courts [are] no longer . . . hemmed in by the uncertain boundaries . . . [i]n simple English, the language of the ‘other reason’ clause . . . vests power in courts adequate to enable them to vacate judgments whenever such action is appropriate to accomplish justice.” Klapprott v. United States, 335 U.S. 601, 614-15 (1949).

    This rule authorizing a court on motion to relieve a party or a legal representative from a final judgment for any reason is to be liberally applied in a case involving extraordinary circumstances or extreme hardship. (See United States v. Cirami, 563 F.2d 26, (2nd. Cir. 1977) (citing Klapprott, 335 U.S. 601.)).

    In your state of Wisconsin, the Supreme Court of Wisconsin cites to Klapprott as authority in defining “other reasons” under Rule 60(b) noting that “[t]he leading cases in which the United States Supreme Court has construed Rule 60(b)(6) and set forth the ‘extraordinary circumstances’ test are Klapprott v.United States, 335 U.S. 601 (1949), and Ackermann v. United States, 340 U.S. 193, (1950).” State ex rel. M.L.B. v. D.G.H., 122 Wis.2d 536, 541 (1985); see also Mullen v. Coolong, 153 Wis.2d 401, 407 (1990) (“Subsection (h) of the Wisconsin Rules of Civil Procedure gives the trial court broad discretionary authority and invokes the pure equity power of the court.”)

    Now we can argue whether Exhibit A’s financial hardship satisfy the Klapprott test, but to say that the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure do not recognize or account for “judgment proof” litigants is not accurate.

    Your reference to “Office Space” is fitting. You cite Tom Smykowski as authority, the lackey who drives into traffic and uses a lawyer, who I am sure graduated from a “first-rate” law school, to get seven figures from the drunk’s insurance company. Nice!

    What you article should have focused on is the ABA’s drive to see legal work outsourced to China. That is the impetuous behind eliminating the LSAT requirement, not a push for, as you put it, “more ‘fourth-rate’ law schools in this country.”

  4. Look at Ziemer. He went to law school, says he worked hard, and still can’t cut it as a lawyer. He just writes useless drivel for a living.

  5. It would seem that the Wisconsin Law Journal is not a fan of fair and equal access. I submitted a detailed cited response to Mr. Ziemer’s “drivel” and all indications are that the moderator has chosen not to publish the response.

  6. I must have been taught by some pretty horrible professors, because I actually do recall learning that you can’t get blood from a turnip. Isn’t it called being judgment proof?

    But, as an unemployed recent law school grad, I can assure each of my creditors that I will gladly share the house and car I don’t own with them, along with my entire supply of Ramen noodles.

  7. This is just another excellent example of a lawyer two-decades removed from law school pretending to know something about the current market.

    Here’s a newsflash: Things aren’t much better at UW than they are at some of these “Fourth Tier” schools. Despite what you’ll read in this year’s U.S. News and World Report, the actual percentage of 3L’s who have job offers is well below 40%. I know plenty of students who have excellent grades, law review and moot court credentials, and elite networking skills yet still don’t have a job. They simply aren’t out there. It’s not about “hard work.” We had a couple dozen firms at OCI and many were just doing courtesy interviews. And it’s not like we’re holding out for high paying gigs – public interest jobs are non-existent or ridiculously competitive.

    Either the University of Wisconsin falls into the category of a “bad” law school (a claim I’m certain you’re not bold enough to make) or we got shafted by a combination of intentional misinformation and a terrible economy. It’s easy to blame “dumb” students for the lack of career prospects but the students aren’t the problem. The law school can’t possibly defend itself by saying, “You should have known that we were lying about salaries and job opportunities!”

    It must be nice to sit on your pedestal and pretend that “hard work” is all it takes. By golly, YOU did it! Why can’t they? Thing can’t be that bad!

    I’m not alone here. Ask ANY SINGLE third year law student about what we’re facing and the response you hear will echo what I’ve just written. We did well on the LSAT. We went to a top 25 law school. We worked and studied hard. We hustled harder than any previous UW class. We’re still unemployed and saddled with six figure debt. To be frank, you SHOULD express some sympathy. Prick.

    UW 3L

    FYI – I’ll be starting as an associate at a large firm on the square in a few months. I’m one of the very lucky few.

  8. Nice to see that in Wisconsin you don’t have to take the bar and if you aren’t very successful as an attorney you can teach Civ Pro CLEs or complain on the internet. Bravo David Ziemer.

    Here is a very thoughtful criticism of Ziemer’s piece that won’t be deleted from the comments: http://restoringdignitytothelaw.blogspot.com/

  9. Folks,

    While I appreciate the comments and never mind a good debate, consider this a warning to keep it civil. Argue the merits of David’s position all you like, but do so without resorting to words like “prick.”

  10. @Aaron:

    I, too, was taught about being judgment- or collection-proof in law school civil procedure. I thought that was a very silly criticism for Ziemer to make (did he sit in TJLS’s civil procedure classes?), although not as egregious as his claims that the NYT piece is “drivel”, that people who go to “good” schools (Is Wisconsin a “good” school?) and work hard wind up completely different than the “Exhibit A”‘s of the world, etc. The New York Times article caught Georgetown red-handed in manipulating their recent employment numbers. If Georgetown isn’t a “good” school, I don’t know what is.

    I agree with David that fourth-tier schools are a problem (although we disagree on the solution, but that’s for another day), but he completely misinterprets both the NYT article and the present reality, which is sad for someone who works in a field where one’s ability to analyze the factual record before them is paramount.

  11. I’ll buy a beer for any lawyer who has ever even once in his entire career actually gotten relief under Rule 60(b)(6) because of the defendant’s inability to pay the judgment.

    UW-3L, we have published several sympathetic articles here at Wisconsin Law Journal about law students and recent graduates of good law schools, like UW. The difference between our articles, and the one in the Times, is we talked to people who made good choices and reasonably expected that success would follow. Anyone accepted into UW necessarily did well academically in undergrad and scored well on the LSAT. If they work hard, they expect reward. I sympathize with them if they are struggling.

    In contrast, the Times found someone who does not meet any of those criteria. Despite all the criticism of my column, I still cannot fathom why I should have any sympathy for Exhibit A.

  12. That’s a nonsequitur. You’re assuming the point of the article was to evoke sympathy for its subject, which even a cursory reading shows is not the case; he was, in fact, cast in an extremely unflattering light. The point was that the legal education system in this country is so severely flawed structurally that this man, who is obviously not suited for practice, was convinced to take out $250,000 in tax-subsidized student loans to get a useless degree.

    And where graduates of top-ten law schools are struggling, the idea that going to a middling school like UW is a “good choice” now is absurd. It’s a good school but one does not have to really achieve high grades academically to get in; for example, the 25%-75% LSATs for admitted students is only a relatively mediocre 156-163 at UW.

  13. I don’t think anybody is arguing that the Thomas Jefferson student profiled in the NYT times piece is not clueless. He was probably highlighted in the article for that very reason.
    But as I’m sure David Ziemer knows, that one clueless law grad was not the point of the article. If you’re going to call an article “awful drivel,” it would be more persuasive if you engaged the writer’s thesis.
    The bottom line is that many thousands, perhaps a majority, of recent and future law graduates will finish six-figures in debt with a microscopic chance of ever really practicing law. Many or most of these people relied on outright lies published by law schools with regard to employment and salary statistics. These are people who may never be able to buy a home, start a family, or do other things that the boomer generation took as birthright, because they made the mistake of going to law school, hoping to end up with a meaningful career or at least a job that pays the bills. And people like Beth Kransberger – former UW Law Dean of Fin. Aid/Admissions, who in that article essentially admitted to fabricating employment/salary statistics – make excellent salaries turning the crushed expectations of naive students into federal money.

  14. Mr. Ziemer,

    Marquette is a bottom tier law school in the last edition of law school rankings. Do you have anything to say to the students and/or the alumni at MU? Or does your article only apply to east coast bottom tier schools?

  15. This problem is not unique to law schools; it is endemic of our entire educational system. How many college graduates are out waiting tables because they can’t find a job with their liberal arts major in history/race relations/gender studies, etc? How many PHD candidates have a realistic chance of getting a tenure track position? This is not a law school problem. This is a societal problem created by lax admission standards, easily available federal and private loans, and a generation of high school kids being told their choice is between flipping burgers or going to college. Is it any coincidence that at the same time we have a severe shortage of skilled laborers and craftsmen? Bottom line: the education bubble is about to burst. Too many graduates with worthless degrees with not enough jobs in the marketplace. The real tragedy is that many of these people will be indentured servants for life as they will be unable to discharge their student loans when mommy and daddy kick them out of the house and they have to declare bankruptcy.

  16. Mr. Ziemer,

    Thank you for writing this piece about the article. I currently attend Thomas Jefferson School of Law and I love the school. The school may be in the “fourth tier” but I personally have found the professors, the new building, the student services, and most of all, the education to be of a much higher quality than that. Also the school does do a lot to help local veterans and current active duty military (which is important to me as a veteran). These school rankings do not concern me as much as it does the younger students. In fairness, I am a small business owner with employees and I do not plan to work for someone else after I graduate. Depending on others for secure employment has never appealed to me. Finding my own clients and work has provided more security than any employer ever has. However, I understand how the ranking have an impact on new grads looking for their first job, especially with no work experience. As an employer, I would say where a person went to school does not determine whether he or she will make me money. Let’s face it; I hire someone because I expect them to make me money. If I read the article right, this kid did find a job but did not like working all of those hours at the starting rate. The problem in this country today, with this younger generation, is this sense of entitlement. Even if you graduated from a top tier school, at the top of the class, you are not worth over $100,000 a year. YOU KNOW NOTHING, YOU HAVE DONE NOTHING, AND YOU HAVE NOT YET DEVELOPED CONTACTS OR RELATIONSHIPS THAT WILL MAKE YOUR EMPLOYER MONEY. I believe it is a poor business model to hire some snot nose kid and pay him or her more than they are worth. Years ago I was an electrical Forman for a large electrical construction company. We were building a new casino on an Indian reservation. One day, one of the new apprentices, who had been in the trade less than 6 months, asked me why I had him digging the underground (digging a ditch if you will) and the “Mexican guy” got to work in the air conditioned electrical room, wiring panels. My response (edited for your reading public of course) was that the “Mexican guy” (The Mexican guy was a legal resident and former Marine by the way) was a licensed electrician and had been in the trade since before this kid was born. I further explained that the only job on the site HE was qualified for was digging a ditch. Of course I conveyed this sentiment in a manner best suited for snot nosed kids. One of which I experienced in the service when I was a snot nose kid myself. My belated point in all of this is to point out that unless you are from an affluent family, no one in life is going to hand you anything. Success, in any field or occupation, requires hard work and dedication. The education only give you the information on how to do the job, it is up to you to do it well enough to get paid.

  17. Thanks, Sean. It certainly wasn’t my intent to rip on Thomas Jefferson Law School, a school which I know nothing about, and may be a great school. But as you recognize, and what should have occurred to the guy in the Times article, if you go to a school with a low ranking, you’d better be prepared to hang out your own shingle and work for yourself after graduation.

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