Sunday, March 18, 2012

Eviscerating the "Sophisticated Consumer" Argument

One of the law school defendants' core arguments appears to be the bankrupt notion that prospective law students are "savvy sophisticated consumers who should know better than to take the law school's employment statistic puffery seriously."

Obviously, I completely reject that notion, especially for those people who enrolled in law school prior to 2009 when the law school scambuster blogs were just starting to become known.  Even now they still have a relatively low profile compared to the readership of the overly optimistic pre-law forums.

Firstly, what difference does it make if a consumer is sophisticated?  Does that justify outright fraud?  Does having a sophisticated consumer base give a merchant a license to make false claims about his product?  Should Madoff have been exonerated on the basis that most if not all of his clients were wealthy sophisticated consumers who should have known better than to fall for a Ponzi scheme?  Should Enron have been found not guilty because many of its investors were, presumably, sophisticated mutual fund managers and other Wall Street investors?

Secondly, the misleading employment statistics are akin to a comprehensive conspiracy engaged in by numerous players in the legal education industry.  Almost ALL of the law schools report similarly misleading, high employment statistics. For this reason, a particular school's wonderful placement stats do not stick out like a sore thumb, raising suspicion and skepticism in the mind of a pre-law undergraduate.  Also, according to one worthwhile read, The National Association for Law Placement (NALP) reported similar statistics.  Moreover, all of the accredited law schools have the implicit sanction of the ABA, and now it sounds like some of the law schools are planning to argue that they were just following the ABA's employment statistics reporting guidelines.  It almost looks like a concerted conspiracy to defraud the students with the law schools pointing at the ABA and the U.S. News and World Report's law school rankings, the ABA pointing at the law schools and U.S. News, and with U.S. News pointing at the law schools and the ABA.

How the hell were these undergraduates supposed to learn that the employment stats were inaccurate to the point that they were laughable and fraudulently misleading?&nbps; They would have had to conduct first-hand surveys of a law school's graduates, directly contacting all graduates of a given year.&nbps; Furthermore, although the law schools may publish disclaimers, the prospective students still have little information to work with, and, collectively, the statistics suggest that even if you cannot obtain a six figure job in Big Law that you will at least be able to obtain an entry-level career-building job in Small Law that will provide you with a good chance of obtaining a return on your law school investment.  In context, most law school brochure readers would probably interpret the statistics and the disclaimers as meaning that not everyone or even most of the graduates obtained high salaries, but when a number such as "93% of our graduates were employed nine months after graduation" is bandied about, even with disclaimers a reasonable and appropriately skeptical reader could not conclude that, in reality, it should be interpreted to mean that in actuality 65% of the graduates ended up unemployed or severely underemployed-and-involuntarily-out-of-field.

Thirdly, consider the pre-law undergraduates' state of mind and context of knowledge when they were making their decisions about whether to attend law school and how to interpret the published employment statistics and their disclaimers.  Almost everyone who goes to college has been bombarded, since Kindergarten or even Nursery school, with the notion that higher education (the more the better) guarantees vocational and financial success.  This notion was reinforced throughout grade school and high school.  These twenty year-olds heard it from their parents and relatives.  Their teachers taught them to believe it in school.  They heard it all over the TV and the radio and from the mouths of intellectuals, news commentators, and politicians.  "Studies show that college graduates earn $1 million more than mere high school graduates."  "Everyone should go to college."  "The solution to our nation's economic problems is more education."  Many of these law students were probably even pressured by their parents and families to attend professional or graduate school.

Furthermore, Colleges and Universities are held in high esteem in our society.  The general public does not regard them as being greedy self-interested for-profit businesses (which, in actuality, as it turns out, they pretty much are).  Established institutions of higher learning, both public and private (as opposed to the fly-by-night for-profit schools that have oozed out from the slime recently), are not generally regarded as being untrustworthy like politicians or used car salesmen.  Colleges and Universities are viewed as standing for progressive thought, justice, and the betterment of society.  Also, many if not most of them are taxpayer-funded or supported by tax dollars in various ways (research grants, etc.).  They are supposed to serve the best interests of the public.  So, why would a twenty year old undergraduate suspect them of publishing fraudulently misleading employment statistics, especially venerable professional schools?

When you piece the big picture together, is it any wonder that prospective law students, most of whom are just twenty or twenty-one years old, would be easily misled by what may be fraudulently misleading employment statistics that have the implicit sanction of the American Bar Association and their parent institutions (often, in essence, a branch of the government in the case of public universities)? Even today, even after the media has aired numerous news reports about unemployed college graduates, the general public still holds institutions of higher learning in high esteem.

Thus, the "sophisticated consumer" argument is complete and utter horseshit.


Nando said...

You nailed it! In this country, we have been bombarded with the following message, since infancy: "Higher education is the KEY to your future."

That message was reinforced by parents, peers, extended family members, business leaders, politicians, news segments, etc. When someone is applying to law school, they typically do rely on employment figures - in part. The schools - and their defenders - now want to place the entire onus on the student for not hiring a forensic accountant, when making their decision to go to law school.

It is good to see you back on the rampage, Franky.

Anonymous said...

This is really well said. I hope you email it to the lawyers for Plaintiffs. I am sure they could use the insight.

Anonymous said...

I agree that you stated the problem very well. I'd like to add to it the fact that most of us are inculcated with trust for authority figures, even if we rebel against them. So, if such authority figures (e.g., parents, teachers, pastors and such) parrot the line that more education is better because that's what they've always thought, what are young people supposed to think?

Anonymous said...

In addition to physical-site protests with our mouths and bodies, another strategy that I hope we will adopt en-masse is widescale, intentional REPUDIATION and rejection of our "debts" - just refuse to feed the predatory system any longer by simply withholding; stop paying in. Let them starve.

As a former finance professional myself, I can tell you that the banking and finance sector is *much* more vulnerable than most think - get default rates up to a critical mass, and watch the value of huge swathes of financial instruments collapse.

So join the DEBTORS' REVOLT - DEFAULT EN MASSE movement. Repudiate your debt. Refuse. Yes, I'm looking at you, student-loan indentured servants.

Frank the Underemployed Professional said...

Thank you for the kind words, Nando. It's good to be active again. Over time I have bookmarked far more articles that I'm interested in discussing than I'll ever really have time for.

Anonymous said...

I do not understand why you are surprised with the decision. Old greedy men who, after spending thier lives worhiping at the altar of the law are being asked to stare into the Heart of Darkness and repudiate all they are and hoped to pass on.

Anonymous said...

I hope your comments are seen by the plaintiffs and their attorneys. It will encourage them to appeal all unfair and wrong decisions. Also, the next one who ought to get served is the ABA for having allowed outsourcing of legal jobs to India to occur this whole time. Legal unemployment came about as offshoring rec'd the blessing of the ABA in 2008.

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