I first want to express my sincerest gratitude for the opportunity to appear on the Marquette University Law School Faculty Blog. I have been a long time reader of the Faculty Blog, and what was true when I first started reading this blog continues to be true now: I have thoroughly enjoyed the quality of content posted here on a regular basis. We have Alan Borsuk’s timely pieces on public education. We can watch the fireworks as Professors Esenberg and Fallone debate. And Dean O’Hear’s posts flag for us new and forthcoming scholarship by members of the Marquette community (to say nothing of his posts tracking cutting edge developments in federal criminal law). In short, this blog has gotten it right.
Some law blogs, however, are not quite so lucky. In fact, one trend in law blogs that has garnered nationwide attention this year is an example of blogging gone wrong. That trend is called “scam blogging.”
Here is an account of how the scam blogging movement came to be. Since the financial crisis in the late-2000s, the job market for student summer associates and licensed attorneys has taken a nosedive. This is particularly true in the larger markets like New York and in their larger law firms: Once major businesses in the United States folded, took major financial hits, or simply became more cost-conscious, the law firms representing them felt the recession’s sting as well. Stories abound of large law firms laying off associates and partners alike. Though not to the same extent as the larger markets, law firms in smaller markets like Milwaukee have had to make cuts as well. In Milwaukee, some mainstays of law school on-campus interviewing reduced their summer associate hires or just did not show up in the Fall 2009. With many sources of employment drying up, students have shifted their job searches to the few jobs—any jobs—that make themselves available.
Many law students, myself included, thus have struggled to find attorney positions with decent, even livable pay. Not everyone is without a job: some classmates of mine have managed get state and federal judicial clerkships and others jobs at large law firms. Others were able to secure employment at the law firms with which they worked throughout their legal education. But these are the lucky ones. Many have not obtained permanent, full-time legal employment after graduation. Adding to the anxiety of the job search are the crushing amounts of student loan debt shouldered by my classmates; some debt figures may reach over $100,000.
My classmates trying and failing at the seemingly Sisyphean task of seeking employment in a down economy have reacted in ways that are many and varied. Most of my friends have expressed resignation, shaking their heads and uttering short, emasculated complaints like “It’s tough” and “The economy sucks” and the like. A handful laugh it off, noting with somewhat forced grins that they will just move back in with their parents after graduation.
And then, there are the scam bloggers. These law students and graduates have taken to the Internet to voice their complaints about the cost and quality of legal education. They claim that their schools defrauded them—or scammed them, if you will—into believing that most of the schools’ graduates landed employment in private practice or with the government or in business post-graduation, all implying to them that they would be working as attorneys. But lo and behold, the employment statistics reported by the schools may have been inflated, counting someone working at the law school on a part-time basis and someone working as a barista at Starbucks as employed under their statistics.
These blogs are dripping with anger and vitriol. Some are littered with curse words. One website even refers to law schools not as schools but with various names for toilets, restrooms, and garbage cans and will even post piles of fecal matter and vomit to begin a rage-fueled rant about a particular legal academic institution. And what of professionalism? Not for us, says one scam blogger, for that is a concept imposed by the elites in the legal profession upon the rest of the bar.
Shock tactics aside, this suggestion raises a number of questions about how the legal profession should be treated as a profession. Did our concept of law as a profession merely develop so judges, law professors, attorneys at white-shoe firms, and other members of the legal profession’s elite could force their will upon the rest of the legal community? Do we treat it as such because lawyers have enjoyed a place of hierarchy in American society from the very beginning? Is the concept of law as a profession merely a vestige of centuries past? Or is it just an intellectually hollow “it is just because it is” proposition? And if the legal profession’s special status is simply a product of elitist social construction and historical accident, why should we hold legal professionals to high moral and ethical standards? Should lawyers and law students care when we see others like the scam bloggers acting reprehensibly?
I say we should care.
We should care because lawyers occupy a special place alongside an American institution that is both a structure and an ideal: democratic rule of law. Respect for the caretakers of our legal system is essential to our respect for the legal system itself.
We should care even more when the legal system’s reputation is under attack. To be sure, public distaste for lawyers, whether their allegedly exorbitant or even extortionate fees or some of our justice system’s rights and privileges that seem less than immediately intuitive, has existed in the United States since its inception. The volume of these complaints ebbs and flows, with low points occurring with Watergate and the corporate scandals of the early 2000s and points not quite as low in between. Lawyers are easy targets in political campaigns: conservative candidates will often blame money-grubbing plaintiff attorneys for an overly litigious society that creates a hostile business climate and pushes the cost of health care into the stratosphere. And there is no need to catalogue the lawyer jokes that have appeared anywhere from the New Yorker magazine to my high school freshman year religion class.
Today, professionalism in the field of law is indeed under attack from the inside, and it is projected on the Internet for the world to see. Comb through the comments on the ABA Journal’s website, and you will find snarky readers making ad hominem remarks about other commenters and throwing insults at other targets. The comments are admittedly tamer than what one would find on Youtube videos, but out of a website whose intended readership mostly comprises the legal community, I would expect more civility. The scam blogger presence, however, is in an entirely different league, especially now that the New York Times has made their presence known. See David Segal, Is Law School a Losing Game?, N.Y. Times (Jan. 8, 2011).
Most bothersome about the scam bloggers are not necessarily the opinions they espouse. Their opinions do give someone pause to think about how some law schools market themselves to the outside world. Whatever the bloggers’ faults, the message for more truth in advertising among law schools has certainly been heard and raised a few eyebrows. See, e.g., Lucille A. Jewel, You’re Doing It Wrong: How the Anti-Law School Scam Blogging Movement Can Shape the Legal Profession, 12 Minn. J. L. Sci. & Tech. 239 (2011); Segal, supra. That they may have galvanized beneficial change is something to be commended.
The main problem I have with scam blogging lies in their decorum. These scam bloggers are future lawyers. When the economy picks up, they will be drafting wills and contracts and complaints, arguing about truth and justice to judges and juries, and advising individuals and businesses on how to comply with a multi-faceted legal system. It reflects poorly on future lawyers—members of a profession that prides itself for critical thinking and searching below the surface for the truth—that they would so quickly say that even they, the next generation or lawyers, would be so easily fooled by employment statistics. And when many of the legal profession’s future caretakers can be seen in public on the Internet throwing tantrums about their job prospects and debt, however valid those concerns are in their own right, what does that say about the future of the legal profession as a whole? What of the legal community’s sense of exceptionalism? Of being special? Of being held to a higher standard?
Of being professionals?
Editor’s Note (7/6): This post has provoked several vituperative responses, which have been submitted without the authors’ full names. This blog’s comments policy, in relevant part, is as follows:
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