Sunday, January 9, 2011

Cognitive dissonance displayed by law students and graduates

The recent New York Times article has caused a flurry of reactions with regards to Mr. Wallerstein and his responses to the mountain of debt that he owes. I have been in the scam blog arena for over a year and have also openly spoken out against law schools. The reaction of Mr. Wallerstein is actually pretty common amongst similar persons that owe a tremendous amount of money. As a 2009 fourth tier law graduate I have spoken to many of my classmates about their situations. I find that the more they owe, the less distress they exhibit. In fact, those who have repeatedly failed the bar exam are more likely to ignore the student loan letters that continue to pile up month after month. They reason to themselves, “I don’t have job and don’t have a license, so why bother?” Others who are working in the legal field but aren’t making anything close to what is necessary to pay off their loans also have a relaxed response when asked about their heavy debt burden. Even in law school when the markets were falling apart and law firms were cutting thousands of attorneys with some firms even going into liquidation, there was little response from my classmates. This denial has been confirmed from other interviews I have conducted in the past year, whether the school was tier 1 or tier 4.

So what is it that causes law students and law graduates to live in a almost delusional state? One big reason is cognitive dissonance and more so, societal conditioning that a lawyer cannot be a failure. Those in fact, were the exact words relayed by Mr. Wallerstein in the NYT interview. Lets explore this topic in more detail. Also, I would like to commend Mr. Wallerstein for having the balls to do the interview with the Times. He will be used as a lightning rod by many scoffers out there. I salute you for helping get this important story out.

Cognitive dissonance is an uncomfortable feeling caused by holding conflicting ideas simultaneously. The theory of cognitive dissonance proposes that people have a motivation desire to reduce dissonance. They do this by changing their attitudes, beliefs, and actions. Dissonance is also reduced by justifying, blaming, and denying. Per wikipedia.

So here is our general rule: that a uncomfortable feeling is caused by holding two conflicting ideas at the same time. Mr. Wallerstein clearly suffers from dissonance as he is in a tremendous amount of debt but at the same time is “satisfied” as a law school customer. How does he attempt to reduce his dissonance? By justification and denial. He justifies his precarious financial situation by feeling superior to others who have not become attorneys. He feels that since he did something difficult that many others cannot do the decision to incur the debt was justified. As many are mistakenly under the false impression that lawyers make tons of money and to be successful in our society one must make a ton of money, it is apparent that Mr. Wallerstein and is using justification to reduce the pain of his reality. The reality being that he cannot find full time work that pays him enough to satisfy his loan obligations.

Mr. Wallerstein also utilizes denial to reduce his dissonance. The most important excerpt from the article:

Another of Mr. Wallerstein’s techniques for remaining cool in a serious financial pickle: believe that the pickle might somehow disappear.
“Bank bailouts, company bailouts — I don’t know, we’re the generation of bailouts,” he says in a hallway during a break from his Peak Discovery job. “And like, this debt of mine is just sort of, it’s a little illusory. I feel like at some point, I’ll negotiate it away, or they won’t collect it.”

There is no pickle. There is no debt. Its illusory. These statements clearly show that he is in denial about the situation he finds himself in. Thus, two methods of reducing dissonance are clearly identifiable in the article. No more using Mr. Wallerstein as the point has been made. The Times could have interviewed thousands of other Juris Debtors with the result being similar responses. Per society at large, because they are lawyers they have achieved success. Yet their bank accounts and financial status proves that they are financial failures. Two contradictory beliefs being held at the same time. Cognitive dissonance is truly rampant amongst other recent lawyers and law students.

The worst about this whole mess is the fact that these graduates have failed to realize the big picture: that they have been misled by the law schools. Yes, that's right fellow Juris Debtors. The law schools have been using "enron style accounting" to fudge the employment statistics that the schools publish. The most important element of fraud is misrepresentation of a material fact. Is it not blatantly obvious that strong employment statistics are material reason as to why students choose to attend law school? Would Mr. Wallerstein have attended Thomas Jefferson if he knew how dismal his job prospects would be? I think not. But for the fraudulent actions of the law school he would not have been on the cover of the NY Times. Nevertheless, his dissonance continues.

Again, the cognitive dissonance stems from the decision to go to law school. Many from the classes of 2006 and onwards ask themselves this question, whether or not it was worth it. Have they made a mistake? When you include the six figure debt the question has much larger implications. Many others have realized that they made a horrible mistake and are now in big trouble. Some blame themselves, others blame the law schools. Surely the law schools are to blame as they post fraudulent data. I would apportion 80% of the fault with the schools for posting false data, 20% with the students for not doing their own due diligence. However, some personal responsibility lies with the decision as in the end the ramifications are life altering for the person who signed the dotted line. In he end, the consequences lie with the ultimate decision maker, absent a massive class action or some debt relief. Many now find themselves in a horrible position with debt that grows ever larger with no conceivable means of getting rid of said debt. Students or prospective students that are reading this need to realize that we live in a fucked up world where honesty is now the exception, not the rule. Buyer definitely beware.

While others have also claimed that “they can’t put me in jail” when asked about how they feel about their loans, the reality is that they are in fact enslaved economically. Its called indentured servitude. The Juris Debtor will not be able to purchase a car, a house, go on a vacation, have kids, or partake of many other pleasures of life that others take for granted. While the chains in the past were made out of steel, today’s slavery chains are digital, following the borrower around until they die. I firmly believe the individual's subconscious is speaking out when any reference to jail is made. Deep down they know they are slaves but refuse to believe it. Surely many will scoff at the assertion that nondischargeable debt is not equivalent to slavery. In the days of old this was referred to as Peonage. In addition, studies have shown that severe debt can cause all sorts of harm to one's emotional, physical and mental health. Of course, the student loan debt trap is not confined to law school graduates as many other post grads are getting crushed by this debt such as pharmacy school grads, mba's, dentists, and a plethora of others who pursue overvalued degrees. We are creating a army of mentally battered people across the country. How this situation will culminate only time will tell but my forecast is clearly negative.

In conclusion, the healing process for many of these individuals will begin when they finally recognize the gravity of the situation they find themselves in. Being $200,000 plus in debt is a serious problem, especially when job prospects are dismal. When the system systemically batters the emotional well being of the new intelligentsia, the ramifications for the future of our country are profound. Hopefully some reforms can be put in place so that we can stop digging this deep hole. Also, it is up to the individual borrowers to accept that they have been wronged and that they have also made a terrible financial decision. When the sufferers of CD wake up, they then will be of a sound enough mind to do something about it such as spreading the word. Or we can watch the student debt clock at the top of this blog grow ever higher.



  1. Beautifully written. We truly are a nation going collectively mad!

  2. "When the system systemically batters the emotional well being of the new intelligista, the ramifications for the future of our country are profound."

    Well said.

    It's like a POW camp for people that did everything right.

  3. "Juris Debtor will not be able to purchase a car, a house, go on a vacation, have kids, or partake of many other pleasures of life..."

    These are luxuries, not essentials for living a decent life. Skip that vacation and pay off your loans if you have any self-respect.

  4. Just to make it clear - I am European so I did my masters without paying any tuition.
    It always appals me how Americans think they are so "free" when in fact it seems like the old Europe is where you have more chance to go up the ladder.
    I thought Mr. Wallerstein was incredibly irresponsible and so self-absorbed. You do not go to places like Prague or Southern France if you cannot afford it, do you?
    How arrogant to think you will be bailed out? Where is the responsibility?

    He thinks people look up to me? Is he in love with himself? Get over yourself and like many Americans, stop liing in denial!!!

  5. It is deeply ironic that lawyers - people who are supposed to read carefully and pay attention to detail - are now complaining that they are unable to repay their loans. In 1992, during a recession, my brother decided not to go to a third-tier law school because it did not make financial sense given his interest in helping people. He became a social worker and is happy and debt-free. In the early 00s - again during a recession - I went to a top tier school on a full scholarship, rejecting higher-ranked schools such as Harvard because of the cost involved. Over time the higher ranking schools may have afforded greater earnings opportunities, but I wasn't willing to take that chance. I still ended up with enough debt for living expenses that I only paid it off this year - 10 years later. I did enough research to know - before taking the LSAT or enrolling - that the NALP figures on employment rates and salaries were BS. It turns out that was common knowledge in the late 90s and early 00s, even among those like me who had no family or friends who had attended law school or had any familiarity with the profession. Mr Wallerstein made a series of poor decisions (Prague? France? seriously?) and he more or less acknowledges that he did not do any due diligence before taking on debt that cannot be discharged. It seems to me that his cognitive dissonance is a condition of long standing.

  6. Wallerstein is definitely suffering from cog-dis. The kid spent too much on trips and lodging. He apparently decided to attend a fourth tier piece of trash, because it was located in lovely San Diego. He also believes that Congress values debt-soaked college students as much as they do airlines, auto industry, banks, S&Ls, etc.

    They bail those pigs out, because they are beholden to them for campaign funds. What do college grads have to offer?

  7. "What do college grads have to offer?"

    Isn't it obvious? College grads offer ENTHUSIASM, which is in very high demand..

    But seriously, good point Nando, and good post. I passed up TJ Law for Seattle, and am currently dropping out after my first semester. It's a scam, but no one person is really scamming.

    It's an unplanned, profit-seeking system. The goal here is to maximize money instead of utility, when it should really be the other way around.

  8. Great post.

    The NYT article was fairly comprehensive. I wish it would have touched on administrative and faculty salaries such as those provided by Nando on his blog. It is hard to feel sympathy for the graduate profiled in the article, but I think that might have been lessened if the reader also knew that administrators took home 200-300k in salary. The author did mention the "transfer of wealth" from students to faculty, but some figures might have helped to drive home the point.

  9. An attorney for over thirty years, and an adjunct law professor for the last several, I am aware of the changes within our profession and of the employment crisis confronting new and older lawyers alike. Carl Rittenhouse Larson's comment that law school is "a scam, but no one person is really scamming" hit the mark. Wallerstein wanted to be a lawyer. He was probably always toward the top of class, and assumed that his law school career would follow suit, leading comfortably to a glamourous high-paying job.
    The commentators that criticize him for his high expectations should not delight in his trouble. While waiting for an opportunity, he will fall further into debt and perhaps depression. Eating humble pie won't help lawyers such as he. The lawyers in his predicament can not hope to wait things out or make ends meet by getting a job at the shopping center or pumping gas. They MUST have a job in law in order to have any hope of earning the kind of money they'll need to pay off that debt.
    It is not unthinkable that attorneys such as Wallerstein out on their own and start working as lawyers. In a better market, I was able to do hang out a shingle immediately upon passing the California bar exam in 1978. I believe it can still be done successfully today, and I encourage new law grads to try it, especially if all else has failed. To this end, I have written a book that offers caveats and advice to neophyte lawyers who have the desire and the means to try. That book, "$olo Contendere: How to Go Directly from Law School into the Practice of Law Without getting a Job," contains practical, sensible advice for going solo safely on a shoestring budget. Available on the State Bar of Missouri, acknowledging the crisis confronting their recent admittees, also publishes a version of "$olo Contendere" for sale on their website (at a deep discount off the Amazon price).
    Going solo is not the answer for everyone, but the fact remains that there will always be people willing to pay a fair price for quality legal services. Many young lawyers like Mr. Wallerstein can learn the ropes on the job. Relying on common sense in selecting their cases, backed by malpractice insurance, and supervised by experienced mentoring attorneys, these lawyers can make a go of it without endngering themselves, their clients or their chosen profession.
    I hope they do.

  10. It would be better if we all went on strike rather than further flood the market as Garfinkle suggests.

    We're not professionals any more. We're just white collar surfs without the basic protections that fast food employees get because we're still called professionals.

    Don't hang out your shingle; don't take one more court appointed case; and for gods sake don't do more more pro bono thing until the ABA starts shutting schools and seriously enforcing the rules agains unauthorized practice, particularly against accountants, realtors and other quasi professionals.

  11. Well think about it- he could either sit and worry all day about his loans and suffer from anxiety attacks or physical illness as a result, or he can choose to ignore them and have a healthy life. What is done is done, and there is no going back and undoing it. Loans have already destroyed him financially, but I applaud him for not letting them destroy him mentally or physically at this point.

  12. Having seen you referenced in the NYTimes, I would love to chat with you folks for thoughts you may wish to share with me in my upcoming book ( and the chapter which I am devoting to the in debt/indentured student.

    Connect me as well on LinkedIn at:


  13. $880 Billion in school loan debt and no one is doing anything to stop this big American Dream Scam.This graduate was unconsciously attempting to live the American Dream. This is what the schools and corporations that own them want people to do. It is what our country programs people to do from their first Christmas gift exchange and birthday. "look at these great presents and if you work hard and go to school and sell yourself and go into debt you can keep getting these presents."

    Our country is filled with greed and there is little focus or even awareness of what is important. We live in a materialistic and consumer society. "He made his decision and he needs to pay the price."

    Ambrose Evans-Pritchard leading financial writer for the Telegraph in London writes today "The US is drifting from a financial crisis to a deeper and more insidious social crisis..." And I think this Times story about school debt is further evidence that we are facing a social crisis and our country is going down. We will soon be a third world country and capitalism will be dead. We will be a socialist country in order to survive.

    Maybe, just maybe, greed and lack of empathy will be dead as well. Mother Theresa once said that the country she disliked the most was the US as it was spiritually and emotionally dead. She preferred the streets of Calcutta to the streets of New York.

  14. This sound so much like the scams of the Housing bubble that the only thing missing is Credit Default Swaps and Collatoralized Debt Obligagtions based on Education Loans.

    Many of the observers of the real estate/mortgage market have observed that requiring banks making mortgage loans to hold on to a piece of the loan would improve underwriting standards and loan performance.

    Similarly if Law Schools had to hold 10% of the education loan, I'm sure they would be much more concerned about the number of law schools overall and their own applicants.

    I'm glad I went into software.

  15. As a person of color, from a family of recently arrived immigrants, I felt it essential that someone in my family be trained in law. The access to knowledge pertaining to civil rights, wealth retention (wills, trusts, estates), property, family law, matters concerning criminal/immigration/corporation, and the analytical tools to process and advocate on this issues, was, up until the late 60's, limited to the upper middle-class. I was astonished at the knowledge I gained my first semester in law school, and I suspect my classmates who were also working/lower middle class/first generation immigrants were too. It was empowering for me and my immediate family, since they too were benefiting from having a educated sibling/cousin in law school. The lowest ranked, fourth-tier schools transmit the SAME knowledge as the top. I am in severe because of this decision, but i guess this was the cost I and my family will pay as we pursue the "american dream."

  16. The "american dream" has been solely established to make corporations rich...sorry you have come in on the end of this. Best wishes to you and your family.

  17. "This sound so much like the scams of the Housing bubble that the only thing missing is Credit Default Swaps and Collatoralized Debt Obligagtions based on Education Loans."

    True, but folks who are underwater on the homes they bought in 2005 through 2007 can short sale or walk away, file bankruptcy and start over with their financial lives. The suckers who bought into the law school scam will not be able to get out from under their debt, save for very narrow circumstances such as medical disability.

    It seems many students did not look before they leapt, and swallowed the sunny tales propounded by the ABA and their respective law school. Unfortunately I know of some people at my law school who were similarly situated to Mr. Wallerstein. I went to a decently respected regional third-tier school and controlled my debt by living low on the hog during law school, eating Subway all the time, working part-time and for stipends. I remember refusing to buy books for some of my classes, and using the books in the library. I only took about $10,000 in private law loans; the rest were Direct Loans which carry a 3.13 interest rate. I did not go "study" abroad, living on loans to drink and party in Prague like my cohorts. Their mentality was "I'm already going to be in debt... why not live a little now before I'm at a firm billing 2200 hours." Some paid rent and car payments exclusively using private loans because they had used up their federal allocated for tuition and books.

    I really hope some students will learn from the NYTimes article before they're screwed.

  18. When will people learn?

    No, education is NOT a guarantee that you will be wealthy or even employed.

    All it does is provide you the tools to take advantage of opportunities that normally wouldn't be available to you. Those opportunities may or may not exist.

    Pretty much all your job opportunities are contingent on the health of the economy. The legal field has been suffering because of economic woes (recession), corporations have been downsizing their legal departments, not to mention outsourcing doc review and other shit legal jobs for some years. These trends are not the fault, nor the responsibility of the law schools to mitigate.

    Yes, there are too many law schools.

    Yes, the ranking systems and self-policing obviously are a hindrance to reform.

    Yes, the debt burden in many cases is too high.

    All that I agree with. What I find to be repugnant is the attitudes that people think they are entitled to a job or that they feel cheated. You made the choice, rightly or wrongly, to go to law school. You chose to take on a huge debt burden, we all did. Now we have to eat the cake. I did also. But I think the adjunct professor above is correct. If you don't find success at looking for a "position" striking out on your own or joining a small practice is the way to go. Many people from my T4 shithole did that very thing and are now doing pretty well. Even in saturated markets like Boston, Hartford, and NY/NJ. There are plenty of services in demand right now. There will always be work if your willing to take it. Getting paid is another issue. That goes with the territory in small practice.

    There are a lot of legal jobs out there. I see tons and tons of postings in health care, bk, finance, immigration, and tax. Stop bitching about your debt (which you will never pay back anyways) and go pursue your career. Pay the minimum amount, go back to school, consolidate, whatever it takes. Its called survival kids, get creative, and stop being victims.

  19. Did you not understand the rules of the game before playing?
    If you could only get into a fourth tier school, then maybe it's time tistop, instead of go. This is not about education, buts selection priocess. By failing to understand the real game, you broke the rules and were broken by them. Stop blaming others for your failure to think, otherwise you will make the same mistake. Arise like phoinex and use the momentem of the experience to move above.

  20. I'm sorry but I cannot seem to find a drop of sympathy for Mr. Wallerstein. He seems to display an absolute lack of personal responsibility and worse a total absence of remorse for his recklessness even now.

    “I looked at schools in Pennsylvania and Long Island,” he says, “but I thought, why not go somewhere I’ll enjoy?”

    WHEN Mr. Wallerstein started at Thomas Jefferson, he was in no mood for austerity.

    Mr. Wallerstein rented a spacious apartment. He also spent a month studying in the South of France and a month in Prague — all on borrowed money.

    Today, his best guess is that he should be sending $2,000 to $3,000 a month in total, to lenders that include Wells Fargo, Citibank and Sallie Mae.

    “There are a bunch of others,” he says. “I’m not really good at keeping records

    and the cherry on the cake-. “It could be worse,” he says. “It’s not like they can put me jail.”

    Wow really? maybe they should drag his smug ass to jail.

  21. No, the "rules of the game" aren't disclosed to prospective students, which is why so many of them end up in debt facing a job market that has bottomed out. Otherwise blogs like this one wouldn't exist.

  22. we'll be fine. don't worry about us. save the shadenfreud. If any of you knew what it takes to actually get through law school, let alone pass the bar, you would not be that concerned. its not like we took out these loans to go to Devry or some Katherine Gibbs type trade school. we have a license to practice law, and analytical tools that can be applied to any trade, including yours (fashion, politics, social work, education). a law graduate will outwork ANYONE in any field (three years of hell trying to stay above a grade curve does that to you). We are overqualified for every job, and HR knows this. Personally, I plan to keep a contract compliance gig for two years, then BOOM, be an expat for a ngo in Africa or Asia, and never looking back. Bye America, and you can keep the loans.

  23. I think that college has become too easy to finance and has resulted in way too many graduates vying for fewer and fewer jobs. It is fortunate that there are student loans to help pay for college, but there ought to be limitations in place or else the entire student loan financial system will be another institution seeking bailouts from the government.
    Mr. Wallerstein needs to be in debtors prison.

  24. Maybe hyperinflation will save us?

  25. The tragedy is not just that so many of these students are investing so much in a field that is such a long shot but for many of these students they are doubling up on a poor undergraduate college investment where they studied subjects like Art History, Sociology, or Psychology.

    It is not uncommon for a recent college graduate in Medieval German with no options for related work to fall back on attending graduate school, where she can postpone the immediate obligation to pay off the prior college debt. So on top of $50,000 of undergrad debt, the recent grad keeps digging a little deeper into debt and three years later owes another $150,000 for Law School loans. Now she has an undergraduate Law Degree to completment her Gender Studies degree and absolutely no ability to pay off the loans.

    We really do need some truth in advertising on this subject.

    My blogs question some of the same thinking that has gone into everyone attending undergraduate school.


  26. Ken H:

    In the event that the government stopped insuring and/or issuing student loans, the price of admission would crash. When government interferes with market forces the result is distortions which cause harm to participants. Mr. Wallerstein and thousands of others like him, are already in debtors prison. Good luck qualifying for a home or a car. Also keep in mind as the credit worthiness of millions of college graduates gets ruined, the effect on the overall economy is disastrous. When new entrants to the workforce are already saddled with student loan debt, they don't buy homes. When people don't buy homes construction workers, lumbar companies, tile, plumbers, electricians, designers, engineers, and many others get harmed. Student loan debt service is a huge misallocation of capital and resources.

  27. "intelligista"?
    the hopelessly indebted as "surfs"?

    Got some funny words on this site.

  28. I don't see why law schools alone are being singled out for criticism. The problem is the same in much of higher education today.

    How is this different from the U of Phoenix or Kaplan U problem, where there's a low or nonexistent bar to matriculating and most people either don't graduate with a degree or graduate and can't get work?

    Everyone's entitled to get a degree even if it's worthless. Everyone can be a lawyer, even with no jobs.

    Maybe we need a return to the old-fashioned system, where young [men] learned how to be a lawyer by working in a law office, and studying law on the job before taking a bar exam. The only problem is that the current system allows everyone in; the old system was only for those with connections to existing practices.

  29. "American Dream"?

    Emigrate. Despite the digital trail the ability to collect on foreign debt is almost nil in personal cases, even on Government loans. The cost to pursue would be extraordinary, far beyond reasonable recovery.

    Just leave the country, JD's.

  30. Leave for China. China has no extradition treaty with the US.

  31. I have a law degree (2005) from a middle of the road state school. All together I have about $75,000 in debt. My first job out of law school was making $25,000 at a non-law state job. I finally got a state lawyer job but only made $38,000. This was barely enough to make my monthly payment. I have talked to others in my class in similar positions. Unable to find real work as an attorney and unable to make enough money to pay back the debts.

    My school claimed 90% employment after 9 months. I have a hard time believing this. There are way too many law school producing way to many lawyers. The opportunities are just not there. I agree that this is not made clear to applicants (and this is true for other professions besides law).

  32. Currently dropping out after my first semester. I go to a US News top 30 state school, and they graciously told us at orientation that it will be "hard" to get work if you aren't in the 10% of your class. At a T1 school. Well, when I took a look at my grades after the first round of midterms and saw I was sitting on top of the bell curve, I figured I would eat my 20k in debt and not waste another 40 the next two years. Unfortunately, like someone posted above, I have a shitty undergrad major, so getting a job will probably not be too easy. I feel dumb that I'm even in this situation. What the fuck was I thinking in undergrad? Why didn't I just do CompSci/Engineering/Pre-Med?

  33. Subprime, you are quite right that student loans seemed to lead to a spike in tuition. When my grandparents went to college, there were no loans. If you couldn't afford it, you didn't go. When my parents went to college, it was still possible to do so with no loans and they did. College was just much cheaper and students could manage living cheaply on a part time job while living with roommates. Once loans were offered, costs went up and up and up.

    I managed to get through with little debt mostly because I have a much less expensive degree and never went to law school. Yet, apparently even working for non profits pays more than some of these jobs for lawyers. Sad.

  34. I'm writing this because I expect more, from you, and individuals like yourself.

    I don't disagree with the particular ideas expressed in this blog, nor do I disagree with the sentiment that drives this post and many others like it. Yet no matter how much of this 'scamblogging' that I read, from this site or others, I can't help but think that this is a job half finished, and it's the important half thats missing.

    I expect more because there is obviously more work to do, I expect more from you because you obviously see how whole generations, including ours (as I suspect we are about the same age), are being railroaded. Unlike most people though, you have a J.D., and I can tell you from experience that if I had one I'd be able to make more of a difference than I can now. When I talk to folks about what could be done to improve our lives, they don't listen to me because I lack, for lack of a better word, the prestige that is associated with that piece of paper. Talk to people about their rights as workers, about the possibilities of community organizing, about the value and power of local zoning boards with a J.D. and people will listen. Or at least they will listen more than if you are just some guy who works at a grocery store.

    What I can see, perhaps more clearly than the JD scamblogging world, is that there was never any 'right way' to live for people born after 1979. For every kitchen manager or head chef making a decent wage there are 100 guys like me that either couldn't hack it in kitchens or, more commonly, just won't ever get a chance. I don't think I'd even need to make an argument about how retail employment is an economic cancer in our society, but I can if you'd like, and from what I can tell M.D.'s are in almost as bad a place as J.D.'s.

    Hard work, either on a factory floor or on the farm or in school was supposed to lead to a reasonable job with reasonable pay and a decent, if common, life. It's yet to pan out that way for us (as an aggregate average), irrespective of our life choices (it seems to have a strong correlation only to how rich your parents were), and at a very basic level that has created a cognitive dissonance that is pervasive and common.

    So, yes, there is a problem, I agree. The one point I would make is that this is the problem of our entire working class (employed or not, educated at university or not), and the solution won't be found simply in changing the legal education system. From what I can see there is a great need, greater than ever, for lawyers. But the people who need legal services can't afford to pay for them, just like there are a great deal of people who need food, shelter, transportation, healthcare etc. and can't pay for it.

    The next step is to propose a solution - reiterating the problem isn't as helpful - and then take action to bring the solution to fruition.

    So what's the solution to this larger, systemic problem? Even without a J.D. I have a few ideas:

    -A new political party
    -New legislation that provides a framework for jobs growth
    -A labor/unionization movement that puts economic power back in the hands of the working class
    -Reformation of the financial system,
    -A reevaluation of trade agreements that may be hurting our domestic economy
    -Creating new social safety programs

    All of these are projects that would require people with legal educations at every phase of their implementation, and as I'm nothing special, I'm sure that with some hard work a group of unemployed/underemployed lawyers could do even better. All of these projects have a good chance of creating more jobs for lawyers in the long run as well, and that, more than anything will help with that money problem.

    Of course I know, better than most, that trying to do anything on this scale seems impossibly hard, but really, do you have anything better to do?

    Oh, and I'd be happy to help, just let me know how.

  35. Kyle:

    I am fully aware that the plight of law grads, business grads, medical students, and others is only a small part of the story. This is only a symptom of the disease which is eating away at this country. The things you speak of require power. But before we can become powerful we must first become educated, enlightened, open our eyes. Once we have the necessary knowledge then we can take action.

    If you go back through the older posts you will see me discuss the issues which you brought up; trade, currency, debt, workers rights, income inequality, corporate power usurping the individual, and so forth. I joined the law school scam blog movement in order to prevent others from falling into the trap, or at least attempted to educate them before their education lol. However, I never limited the scope of my posts to just the law school problem, but I included the most important problems that are eating away at our society. The biggest threat to our way of life, I believe, is the federal reserve and its insidious use of fiat currency. Without the fed there would be no housing bubble, no tuition bubble, no national debt crisis, no $1.6 quadrillion in derivatives, etc.

    Everyone is scared and angry due to issues with money. Once people learn what the source of money is and how it is being issued and manipulated to their disadvantage, true reform can take place. Consider me a educator for now.

    Thanks for your great insights.

  36. Law school is an end in itself. I think Mr. Wallerstein would agree. The dude achieved his highest goal: fulfilling his ego by getting a JD. This is his logic. Most students see college as a means to an end, this dude also sees college as an end in itself. Everyone here may laugh all they want about Mr. Wallerstein, but he accomplished his target goal. If his law school were to double the tuition for his second year, he would still commit to his degree. The dude's a baller!!! lol albeit a poor one.

    On a less serious note, I disagree with the author. Mr. Wallerstein experiences no cognitive dissonance; he has no buyers remorse. That dude would repeat law school if he had a second life. For many students, they have buyers remorse. Now the reason for buyers remorse may be personal failure. Lets say, you entered in this legal arena but failed to be competitive (top 1), so you have regrets about your career decision. Your expectation failed to meet with your experience.

  37. The only thing worse than having a law degree and no job is having a law degree AND having a job where you are enslaved for the best years of your life in order to pay back these miserable loans. 15-16 hour days are not uncommon, especially these days.And the pressure?? There is always someone willing to take your place, and you and the senior partners know it. Why work at all?

  38. I'm wondering if there is enough documentation of fraud to support a class action DTPA against selected law schools?

    Would give the unemployed lawyers something to do.

  39. "In addition, studies have shown that severe debt can cause all sorts of harm to one's emotional, physical and mental health."

    I think all one needs is COMMON SENSE to know that severe debt is stressful.

  40. I haven't read the earlier comments and so I apologize if any of this is repetitive. Also, this is the first time I have read your blog so some of this may also be a rehash of your thoughts.

    I am also a 2009 graduate of a tier 4 school. I entered law school in August of 2006 after leaving a well-paying but not necessarily fulfilling job in the television news media. I had applied to law school essentially on a lark, a sense that law school graduates tend to do much better than mere college graduates and that attending law school would mean a greater opportunity for me to do what I wanted with my working life.

    Law school went well enough. I learned and learned and learned... it was really an enjoyable experience. My school was in a very small town and there was an amazing esprit de corps that came out of so many over-educated people with so much "free" money on hand. So, it was interesting and exciting. It did have a certain amount of monastic charm. We were working hard and learning the minutia of issues that we were unlikely to ever confront outside of school. Some of my classmates even claimed a romantic sense about it. I never went that far.

    As graduation began to loom my classmates and I were becoming more and more aware of the economic troubles outside of our bubble. Speakers came to campus to talk about the causes of economic collapse while others discussed how the economy would recover. Economic woe stood alongside discovery devises and hearsay exceptions as essentially academic concerns.

    Throughout my final semester some students got news that they would have jobs following graduation. Others had their law firm offers rescinded. I sent out dozens of employment packets in response to employment notices. Most of these went to law firms and public interest groups in an admittedly specialized field. These effort brought no fruits but I continued to be optimistic about my future. I was going to be a lawyer! What did I have to worry about?

    Just prior to graduation I met with an advisor from my loan provider (just one!). He gave me an idea of how much I would owe and how long it would take me. I, like so many student, had $200,000+ in debt. The surprise was that it didn't upset me. The number was far to big to worry me. It was to me basically a useless number, one that would never go down unless it was immediately to zero. So, I left the meeting feeling happy and confident. I knew that once I found a job it would be a short walk into prosperity and freedom from debt.

    My post-law school experiences have been anything but. My confidence carried me into my summer bar exam study. I had planned to take the exam in July 2009 and my recent conferral of a J.D. with honors told me that I was unlikely to fare poorly on the exam. I used the service of Bar/BRI and was happy with the presentation if not the material.

    Long story short, I failed my first shot at the bar exam. I blamed myself and at times could be heard blaming my law school (although I don't really feel that way now at least with respect to the problem of bar passage). Faced with months until the next exam I dedicated myself to getting tight with the legal community and to find some work in the field.

    In the meantime, the notice started arriving. I was way past due on my loans and deferral had lapsed. I signed up for an un- and underemployed forbearance. Again, I had further confidence in my ability to weather the economic and bar passage woes.

    But nothing ever came of my efforts to find work. I felt, I think like a lot of people in my position, that I was banging my head against a wall. I rarely, if ever, got a response from these employers. I ever dropped in to nearly every law firm in town to hand off resumes and see if I could talk to anyone about temporary employment until the next bar exam. No luck.


  41. ... here.

    When February rolled around I was beginning to feel the pull of these problems. I had not found a job and my family was hounding me to find one. They treated me like I was ignoring the responsibility. Some of that may have been true. I worked hard some weeks but others were just upsetting and it became difficult to get up and try hard. My sense of self-worth had been crushed and I was in for more.

    The February bar exam was another difficult and fruitless exercise. It was another three days of intense examination and the stress that goes along with it. Following the final day I had no sense of finality and no idea of how I would do. Turns out I missed passage by about 7 points or 1/3 of a percent. This was difficult news to take... not that I had come so close but that I hadn't passed by much, much more.

    Following this defeat I resolved to go out and find work wherever it could be found. I put in applications and resumes at everyplace I could think of: UPS, Barnes and Nobles, Baskin-Robbins... I even posted numerous Craigslist ads offering writing, editing and delivery services. Again, nothing. I had stepped across the mental threshold and begun trying to get "just any job" as opposed to the jobs I felt I "deserved" and still it amounted to nothing.

    Now, I'm in the thralls yet again of bar study. Each time the exam gets more difficult and it becomes more and more upsetting to go back and reconsider material I should have taught myself years ago. But, alas, the bar exam is not the point of your blog.

    I find myself often questioning my decision to attend law school. When I tell people this the most common response is, 'yes, but it'll be worth it eventually.' My response to that has gone from, "I know! I just have to keep my spirits up and I'll be all right." to, "when? When I'm 80?"

    I have been putting a ton of time into volunteer work and some temporary legal work that I've found through personal connections. I could have done anything I'm doing today without having been to law school. I believed my school's literature when it told me that they had high job placement and bar passage rates. In my own analysis of both those claims as they regard my own graduating class I have found no support. Most people are indeed either out of work or are working outside the legal field. Many have passed the bar but a significantly large amount have not. There has been a dead minimum amount of effort on the part of my school to track down students like myself who are underemployed and help them find employment. In fact, when I tried to use my school's staff to get help finding a job I have been put through so many hoops that I'm not sure they even know what they're doing.

    Meanwhile, classmates who have been successful and are now working in the field seem to be just as likely to be concerned about their future. Some are in temporary assignments while others are working far outside of the type of law which the majority of us expected to practice.

    In conclusion, the stress is enormous. It's not that "first year associate" stress that the movies and TV have made so glamorous. There are no long nights in the office and there are no lunches at my desk. Instead I have a lot of free time which I have focused on non-legal work to keep myself from going insane. Meanwhile, the notice continue to arrive as I try to stay up to date with the forbearance applications. As soon as a permanent job comes along I will take it and I will begin the long task of paying down my loans. Until then I hold in my head not just two dissonant thoughts but an orchestra of ideas about law school and the real world that clash in the most deafening way.

  42. gcc, your story, is my story. down to the last comma. I think we need to come to grips to the fact that we are a lost generation. There are riots in Tunisia this week- highly educated graduates who can't find work to make a decent living. Same thing in Iran, Ireland (post "Gaelic Tiger" boom) and Mediterranean litteral. I am preparing to become an expat. I can't live in this country anymore. I was a Peace Corps volunteer who returned from Africa solely to get a law degree. Many volunteers remained. I am soooo sorry I came back. I won't make that mistake again.

  43. Cognitive patterns for these students will really seem so high standard than others, That's what is being builded up from their studying , on how they think and they're perception in life.

  44. DUDE YOU WENT TO A FOURTH TIER SCHOOL. YOU MIGHT AS WELL HAVE GOTTEN YOUR "LAW" DEGREE FROM ITT TECH. I think mostly you're bitter that you didn't get into a remotely good law school and that your 22ish year old self wasn't smart enough to think the whole thing through.

  45. When you have highly educated, newly graduated lawyers talking about fleeing their country to escape debt and find jobs, basically you have the makings of a brain drain common to developing countries. If the situation is similar for other professions, so much the worse.

    Obviously, with debts running over 100 or even 200k and wretched job prospects, it makes entirely good sense to move abroad. Penury and living in a society that was rigged against them is what brought a lot of immigrants to the United States in the first place. Similar conditions are for later generations to leave again. Parts of the world are booming and will grow for decades to come--China, India, Brazil, Malaysia--many, many countries. And well educated, hard working Americans are in demand. The trick to making it abroad is sticking it out--it may take time to find a niche and there are predictable periods of sadness at leaving, homesickness, disorientation, and so forth. But once you are rooted and working, learning the language, making friends and having fun, life comes together.

    I was lucky enough to leave the US in 1999 with a job in hand when I landed in Europe, but I have seen plenty of other Americans arrive and successfully scramble and put together good lives with long-term financial stability. This is true even for those who became English teachers, where you would think the long-term prospects would be dim. Just to the due diligence this time: compare countries, living conditions, salaries, and so forth. And consider jumping ship in pairs or groups: combine assets, share the risks, support each other and start over together.

    Also consider that as trained attorneys you may very well eventually network your ways into corporate jobs in your adopted countries. As you know, the skills you have learned are transferable and valuable across a range of professions. You may even end up working as lawyers or in law-related jobs.

    Nobody without an extraordinarily high paying job can pay down debt like this. And if you spend ten years of your life holding on to the mast of a sinking ship you'll have wasted your youth and a lot of the energy and lust for life you could have put into starting over abroad.

    I'm so sorry. This isn't right. It really is a grotesque transfer of wealth and you should not accept this lying down. Also, you might try moving abroad and then starting to negotiate with the holders of your private loans. Banks may become reasonable once they know you're out of their reach. Government backed loans are another story--Sallie Mae and the like are monstrous because they themselves bear no risk.

    Live bold, you've got nothing to lose!

  46. The political geniuses of Massachusetts voted less than one year ago to start a state run law school. School of Law - UMass Dartmouth. Perfect. No state should only have 9 law schools.

    "Southern New England School of Law was located in North Dartmouth, Massachusetts. It was a non-profit law school that was accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges[1]. It was not accredited by the American Bar Association[2].

    Southern New England was founded in 1981.

    In 2009, the University of Massachusetts board of trustees voted to accept the gift of the law school and its assets from the law school trustees with the aim of creating a competitive and low cost alternative to private law schools in the area.[3]. Southern New England held its final commencement on May 29, 2010 and is now the University of Massachusetts School of Law - Dartmouth.[4]"


  47. "US News and World Report" would have gone out of business years ago had it not stumpled into the (w)hole college rating system scam.

    They benefit more than anyone from these rating systems.

  48. Mr. Wallerstein mentioned he wanted to buy a condo even before he graduated and passed the bar exam. Sounds to me like he was counting his chickens before they hatched and was expecting to land a high paying job. Not to mention he went overseas to study while the debt kept mounting. For the folks who are really smart (not just book smart) and want the pay, power and prestige of a high profile career, then you should go to med school and become a doctor.

  49. You have some crucial grammar mistakes in this article, my friend. You have a J.D.? Really?

  50. What do you think about an online famous law professors as opposed to actually attending a school of law, part time though? I'm not sure if I'll miss out on anything if just do the course online as opposed to attending the college.

  51. Subjective examples for these understudies will truly appear to be so elevated requirement than others, That's what is being builded up from their concentrating on , on how they think and they're discernment in life.


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