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Thanksgiving Roundup

It's a tough economy, and a lot of people would jump at a job opportunity like the one offered in this advertisement:

• Start Date: Next 1-2 weeks
• Duration: expected 4-5 months
• Pay Rate: $29/hour
• Schedule: 40 hours per week, 5 Days per week

But a lot of people wouldn't meet the the requirements, which include a "JD or LLM from ABA-accredited school."

Then again, 29 bucks an hour is better than 0 bucks an hour, or working 10-hour shifts as a waitress. That's the fate of many recent graduates; the National Association for Law Placement found that the employment rate for the 2011 law school class was the lowest since 1994. The overall employment rate was 85.6%, but that's a bit misleading: fewer than two-thirds were in a job requiring a law degree. And that's not full-time employment: for about 20% of the graduates, the jobs were either temporary or part-time.

If you guessed that people who racked up $150,000 in student loans on promises that the law school they chose (or chose them) had a "95.1% placement rate," only to find that that placement rate included jobs where the tip jar provided a meaningful source of compensation, you'd be right. Blog sites like third tier reality, Subprime JD, Lawschool Fail, and First Tier Toilet have sprouted up, chronicling their plight. Some of it is focused on the economy, but most of it is directed at the law schools themselves. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts 73,600 new lawyer jobs from 2010 to 2020; just three years into that decade law schools have already graduated 132,757 new lawyers. Despite that, the schools keep churning out graduates for jobs that don't exist.

Why? Because law schools are money mills. Indiana Tech Law School will open next year, charging $30,000 a year, despite the fact that the state already has four other law schools, two of which have legal unemployment rates of about 40%. Law school tuition has risen 317 percent in the past decade, more than four times the increase in undergraduate tution. Student loans, freely given because they're non-dischargeable in bankruptcy and often the size of a mortgage, fuel the machine. In fact, the analogy between buying a home and buying an education is a good one, in several respects: loans now take about 30 years to repay, at $1,000 a month. In one respect, though, they're not. A lot of homeowners who found the recent economic debacle left them with a mortgage balance higher than the equity in their home simply walked away. You can't give back an education, even if it's not doing you any good.

The response to this by law schools has ranged from the defensive to the absurd; back in 2010, for example, Loyola University simply added .333 to every grade recorded by its students over the past several years, to make them more appealing to employers. The response by some students has been predictably lawyerish: they've sued. Over twenty class-action lawsuits have been filed against a number of mostly low-ranking schools, arguing that the inflated job statistics they boast of constitute fraud. So far, plaintiffs haven't had any more luck with the litigation than they've had finding jobs; just last week, a Chicago judge dismissed the suits filed against John Marshall Law School and Chicago-Kent College of Law, and the same fate has befallen claims against New York Law School, Depaul, and Thomas M. Cooley Law School.

For those who've practiced civil law, you've probably guessed that the problem is one of the elements of fraud: not only do you have to prove that you relied on the defendant's misrepresentations, you have to prove that you had a right to rely on the misrepresentations. And when you're deciding to enroll at a low-ranked law school during a time of contraction in the legal market-place -- in the past five years, the 250 top law firms in the country have shed 10,000 jobs -- well, as one judge put it in his opinion, "only an idiot would have believed the reported statistics."

Psychology today. Then again, maybe tighter psychological screening would help improve the legal employment situation. No, not to screen out those with personality maladies, but to screen them in. A recent book by Kevin Dutton, The Wisdom of Psychopaths: What Saints, Spies, and Serial Killers Can Teach Us About Success, argues that having some psychopathic tendencies is a good thing: traits include ruthlessness, charm, focus, mental toughness, fearlessness, and a willingness to act. Dutton looked at various occupations, and developed a list of the top 10 most psychopathic professions. Lawyers came in number two, just behind CEO's. As Dutton put it, "any situation where you've a got a power structure, a hierarchy, the ability to manipulate or wield control over people, you get psychopaths doing very well." Sounds about right. Dutton quotes one successful lawyer who told him, "deep inside me there's a serial killer lurking somewhere, but I keep him amused with cocaine, Formula One, booty calls, and coruscating cross-examination."

Hell, I haven't even got the coruscating cross-examination part down.

Traveling tips. A lot of people are going to be flying for the holidays, and if you're one, you'll be thrilled with the news that the airlines are busy making seats even smaller.

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for overweight_passenger.jpg

 United Airlines recently announced that they're putting smaller seats -- 17 inches wide, only an inch smaller than they are now, but eight inches smaller than a decade ago -- in order to cram more people into planes. And "cram" is the operative word, as this picture taken on an American Airlines flight a few years ago demonstrates.

The competing trends -- airline seats are getting smaller, while the public is becoming more obese -- portend trouble, as recounted by one woman on an online passenger forum, who told of having to stand up during the entirety of a seven-hour flight because the passenger assigned to the seat next to hers was so large he spilled into hers. (The airline knocked $200 off her $800 flight in recompense.) That, the reduction in flights (there are over 20,000 fewer North American flights per month than a year ago), and the hassles of dealing with airport security have led more and more people to forego air travel: the number of passengers has declined by three million a month from five years ago. Of course, that just creates a vicious cycle: the few passengers, the more flights that get cut, the more the airlines need to fill the remaining ones, the smaller the seats they make to get more people on...

But here's your legal tip out of all this. Remember what I said about airport security? The TSA people are probably going to hassle you -- no, they are definitely going to hassle you, and maybe detain you and ask some probing questions -- if you show up at the airport wearing a watch that looks like this:

watch-bomb-airport-geoff-mcgann.png


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