Tuesday, March 11, 2014

A little cognitive dissonance on the side, please

One thing you can't accuse the State Bar of Texas of is having a post-modern sensibility. There's little sense of self-awareness and not a hint of irony in the monthly Texas Bar Journal. Maybe that's because the State Bar has always been by and for the white shoe firms in Houston and Dallas.

It certainly doesn't help that all of us who practice in Texas are blackmailed into joining the State Bar. Fail to pay your annual dues and you'll find yourself unable to practice law legally in the Lone Star State. With a captive audience (and big firms that pay the dues of all its lawyers), there is no incentive for the State Bar to take any other perspective other than what's good for Baker & Botts (or feel free to substitute any BigLaw firm in its place) is good for the profession.

I don't need to tell you what a colossally illogical statement that is.

In the current issue of the Texas Bar Journal we hear from Heather Venrick, a third-year law student at SMU's Dedman School of Law. She's feeling a bit blue because she thinks SMU didn't quite tell her the truth about the state of the legal profession. She was told to keep up her grades, get into law review, join a bunch of student groups and clerk for a variety of firms. Such things, she was told, would help her get that dream job.

Only there is no dream job.

She was sold the typical law school white wash job. BigLaw isn't hiring. Ever fewer students are walking into a job that puts them in a BMW and a nice zip code. As unrestrained capitalism has forced its nose under the tent, firms are more and more concerned with the bottom line than providing service to their clients. Add that to the glut of graduates from law school and you get a capitalist's wet dream - a desperate work force with far more people than jobs. Even the most ardent disciple of Ayn Rand knows what that means.

Of course it wouldn't be the State Bar without an upbeat (unrealistic) attitude, now, would it? Despite her inability to find her dream job, Ms. Venrick is still happy she decided to pursue her dream of becoming a lawyer.

Ms. Venrick might want to read The Lawyer Bubble: A Profession in Crisis, a book that I reviewed back last April. In fact, if you're considering law school, you need to pick up a copy and read it. If you choose to enter the legal profession, you need to do it with eyes wide open.

But if there is a shortage of jobs and a surplus of applicants, why not just shut that spigot down and reduce the supply of new lawyers? That would be the logical thing to do, wouldn't it?

Only there's money to be found in operating a law school. Students are forced to sit for three years when everyone will acknowledge that that's at least one semester more than necessary. Students are charged an arm and a leg to attend law school and pay for the academic Shangri-La it has become for those on the tenure track (maybe not so much for the ever increasing number of adjunct faculty). High tuition rates are subsidized by the government with easy money being doled out to those reaching for the brass ring. The loans can't be discharged in bankruptcy so the schools and banks are guaranteed their pound of flesh.

And into that breach has stepped the University of North Texas Dallas College of Law - the newest law school in Texas. And, without even a hint of irony, the Texas Bar Journal ran a fluff interview with the dean of the new school right after Ms. Venrick's attempt at venting.

We find out in the course of the interview that UNT's mission is to provide a "top-notch" legal education at a bargain price for those who might not be able to get into one of the state's other law schools. Now I'm all for expanding opportunity but who the fuck are we kidding? There is no market for another 120 lawyers a year in Texas.

The only beneficiaries to this newest law school will be the University of North Texas who will be counting the cash rolling in thanks to subsidized student loans and the BigLaw firms who will see even more downward pressure on wages.

The addition of even more new lawyers on the market will only serve to get us closer to the end of the race to the bottom. More new lawyers than the market can bear means more lawyers walking down the street wearing hot pants looking for that next new lead dangling from the marketeers' back pocket.

But it will also mean more money for UNT, the State Bar of Texas and the ABA -- and isn't that what it's all about anyway?


Brian M. Harrison said...

That is pretty outrageous. I was surprised that juxtaposition made it past the editors, but on second thought maybe I should have expected it.

Lee said...


When I first decided during my undergraduate years to be a lawyer one of the assumptions I had was that money for lawyers abundantly rained from the sky. while greed was not my reason for selecting this career path I was under this illusion as I saw some lawyers whose watch cost more than my car and lawyers billing out hundred of dollars per hour for services. I have since been disillusioned to this and come to realize that polarization of wealth does impact the legal profession as well.

What the problem here is (and true for all professions of which can be seen in rush hour traffic or grocery store lines) is that the baby boomers and their children had too many damn kids. They continued to have children without consideration of what kind of circumstances the world would have for them. Every May and December high schools and colleges across our nation are churning out graduates by the hundreds, thousands and even hundreds of thousands. Do you see jobs opening up, people dying or retiring or jobs being created to accommodate the same birth and graduation rate? Our national economy and job market do have a mass capacity much the same way that a room or elevator does and we can't continue to add more people in this country without taking some out. It is supposed to work like a circle of life (Lion King?) where the old man keels over and you get his job. Now thanks to our advanced technology and longer life expectancies the old guy is still working and the position has not opened up. As far as I am aware of using homicide to open up job positions is still frowned upon and so we continue to have more newborns, applicants and graduates than we really need.

Americans need to rethink their current meaning of success as having children. We really don't need an more and lines are going around the building that societies public services are struggling to accommodate.

Maybe the reason that many politicians were so sold on mass incarceration was a method of population control?

Jeff Gamso said...

I, too, always resented having to pay for the biglaw bar association in order to practice in Texas. Now that my Texas license is inactive, I get to pay less. But as a consequence I am denied the right to vote for the officers of the association that represents me - and would impose discipline on me if I were disciplined. (And, not at all as an aside, I wasn't permitted to vote in the recent referendum over the rules.)