Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Dec 5, 2013 in Unsolicited Commentary
For reasons still unknown to me — I’m assuming the resumed trial (and yesterday’s conviction) of NC NAACP chairman Rev. William Barber II — I’ve gotten near-nonstop flak this week over my involvement defending some of the 900+ people arrested by the Government during the Moral Mondays protests at the North Carolina General Assembly.
Which normally wouldn’t be that annoying (I have strongly opinionated friends ), except that this go-round it’s been a bombardment from all over the political spectrum.
My conservative friends had long ago labeled me a pariah for defending “Commies, hippies, and other people who don’t bathe” as one person put it. The very first time I mentioned thinking about helping, one of my good friends from undergrad simply replied “oh you better not!”
But then this week I’ve also had several liberals asking me “who thought everyone getting arrested was a good idea?” and “what were they thinking?” and “tell me what this all accomplished?” — as if I played any role in the protests themselves or cared an iota about the movement’s success-or-lack-thereof.
A not-uncommon query this week
And there’ve even been what I’d consider the apolitical folks, who are just plain flummoxed that people can still be arrested (and convicted! ) for things like self-evident political speech, and more flummoxed still that similarly situated protestors could end up with totally different verdicts in their respective cases.
So when I got an email over the listserv earlier today from a well-respected attorney helping with the defense, pontificating over how best to advance the politics of the Moral Mondays protests, I did one of these and typed an almost-ALLCAPS rant in response…
…then I took a few deep breaths, removed the inflammatory stuff, and sent the following:
From: T Greg Doucette
To: MM Lawyers Listserv
Date: December 5, 2013 @ 11:21 AM
I’d respectfully argue that whether “a litigious approach [is] the best way” for “helping the advancement of the MM issues” is a minor side issue, because what’s going on with these cases long ago transcended the Moral Monday stuff and is now about the bedrock principles of a free society.
Now I’ll concede up-front that (1) I’m just a baby lawyer and (2) I’m an unabashed Republican who didn’t participate in the Moral Monday protests and agrees with very very (very) few of the items the group was promoting. So take this entire email with several grains of salt as each of you sees fit.
But the whole reason I agreed to take on any of these cases was because it seemed mind-bogglingly outrageous to me that North Carolina taxpayers could be arrested en masse for obvious political speech in the very legislative building paid for by those very taxpayers for the very purpose of hashing out political issues. Even if I wholly disagreed with the content of their speech, I’d never try to have someone locked up over it (if for no other reason than I’d like to have the option of protesting one day when the political pendulum inevitably swings in the other direction).
It’s the kind of shameless abuse of power I (naïvely) figured the government would have stopped doing a long time ago after taking ConLaw in law school. It’s outrageous regardless of which party’s in power. And the Judiciary, at some level, needs to weigh in and remind the Executive Branch that jailing dissidents isn’t how we do business in the United States of America.
Anyhow, please forgive the imperious rant — thanks to everyone for their work so far, keep it up, let me know where us baby lawyers can continue helping, and let’s all pray the judges come to their respective senses on the rest of these cases
That about sums up my thoughts on these prosecutions: they’re an abomination.
Not to mention an audacious choice for a State that every April 12th celebrates the adoption of the Halifax Resolves — the first official action of any of the colonies calling for independence from Britain (talk about a protest!).
And while the initial arrests were wrong, I’d argue the prosecutions are worse; unlike police, District Attorneys are lawyers who (at least theoretically) had to learn about the Constitution and the First Amendment in order to pass the bar exam.
With the guilty convictions racking up, it seems obvious the decisions have already been made at the meat-grinder/District Court level. I just hope the Superior Court — or the appellate courts if it comes to that — correct this particular abuse of power and as a result send a message about future abuses.
Because moreso than global warming or eeeevil 1%ers or any of the other boogeymen the political Left insists will lead to my demise, this is the type of thing that causes me to lose sleep at night.
From the law:/dev/null “Excellence in Government” archives:
Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Oct 1, 2012 in Unsolicited Commentary
Good evening y’all!
One of the things I try to do every morning (before venturing out into the world with my bow and arrow) is running through the mini-feed of the NC SPICE Twitter account and looking for any useful or interesting stories that might be helpful to the solo and small practitioners we serve. It helps them out, and has the side benefit of keeping me informed about what’s going on in the world.
And every now and then I come across stories that just kinda make me scratch my head…
The good folks over at Solo Practice University had one of those tweets this morning:
Seemed like an innocuous-enough tweet so I clicked the link, and was taken to this press release from the University of Southern California’s Gould School of Law. It outlines the planned testimony earlier today of “Legal Trailblazer Gillian Hadfield,” a professor at the law school, who insists “the legal system’s regulatory approach needs to dramatically shift with less-expensive alternatives to attorneys[.]”
As part of her prepared remarks, the release claims:
“My main message for the Court is one rarely heard from the legal profession,” Hadfield said. “There is no way to generate the kind of legal help ordinary Americans need without fundamental change in the way the judiciary regulates the practice of law… We cannot possibly solve the access to justice problem without changes in our regulatory approach.”
Now I don’t know who Gillian Hadfield is; I’m sure she’s a great lady and a sage scholar of the law. And I’ll even go a step further and accept at face value the claim that her “message” of needed regulatory reform “is one rarely heard from the legal profession.”
But she teaches at USC Law.
A school with annual tuition and fee rates of $51,490.00 in 2012-2013.
The 6th most-expensive law school in the nation.
Take a minute to juxtapose Hadfield’s view promoting non-lawyer lawyers with the long-standing lamentation law schools flooded the market with too many graduates. I think those complaints are wrong — the problem isn’t too many lawyers, it’s too many lawyers trying to bill out $250+ an hour so they can repay student loan debts in excess of a quarter-million dollars apiece — but the contrast highlights how completely backwards the discussion over the legal market has gotten.
If you want to promote deregulation of the legal industry, say on the notion that more competition would induce more innovation and produce a better product, then go for it. At least that’s a plausible argument and frankly one I’d support.
But to promote deregulation on the mind-numbing theory there’s an undersupply of legal help available, all while enriching yourself via (and thus contributing to) one of the top drivers behind inflated legal rates, is beyond farcical.
The press release closes by noting Professor Hadfield’s valiant efforts to tame her employer:
She is part of a growing movement to reform legal education. Her mission is to teach law students to be problem solvers.
“Many law professors come to law school thinking that our job is to be the expert at the front of the class imparting information,” she said. “But one of the most important things we can do for our students is to get them actively engaged in problem-solving together to generate workable solutions to client problems. As I see it, my job as a professor is to design the materials and opportunities for them to do that and then to take myself out of center stage as much as possible.”
With due respect to the esteemed Professor Hadfield, if you really want to “take [yourself] out of center stage as much as possible” I’d suggest you encourage USC Law to lead by example and slash its tuition and fee rates.
Approach that objective with even a fraction of the zeal you’ve devoted to deregulating the entire legal profession, and I suspect you’d discover there is a “way to generate the kind of legal help ordinary Americans need”: producing lawyers ordinary Americans can actually afford to hire.
Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Nov 9, 2011 in Unsolicited Commentary
After more than 2 years of writing here at law:/dev/null, I’ve done a reasonably decent job of keeping the “real world” politics to a minimum — not because I’m averse to talking about those sorts of issues, but because law school is enough of a headache without me going into AN ALL-CAPS RAGE about the latest controversy du jour.
Even so, every now and then I feel a slight urge to rant
Earlier tonight I took a break from drowning in homework to visit Chapel Hill for “An Evening with Five Presidents”, an event put together by the UNC Board of Governors featuring a panel discussion with the 5 folks who have led the consolidated University of North Carolina since it was established in 1972. Former BOG members were asked to attend as “special friends” of the University — and since I’m more likely to find a job lead from one of these folks than anything my GPA will get me, I figured making the academic sacrifice was a rational choice
Anyhow, the wide-ranging discussion included more-than-a-few remarks about the proper way to fund the University and the totally absurd tuition increases being discussed behind closed doors (e.g. $4K+ increase at UNCCH for in-state undergrads over the next couple years ). Unfortunately those are the kinds of conversations that happen when newly-Republican-led state legislatures gore the higher education system and nuke $1 of every $7 overnight.
It’s obvious from the General Assembly’s actions that legislators have a dim view of the university system, I’m just thoroughly flummoxed as to why. It’s always made intuitive sense to me that the education sector is one of the few options that are a sensible and eminently capitalist choice for investing taxpayers’ money.
Yes, I just said “eminently capitalist.” Maybe I’m biased because of the modest upbringing and former dropout status, but consider two brief reasons:
The Social Network Effect:
Folks who’ve spent time in a computer science class have probably already heard of the “Metcalfe Effect”, named after Ethernet founder Robert Metcalfe. He argued that a critical mass of users was necessary to create any value in any particular network; for example, one person having a telephone is worthless, but as more people get telephones all current telephone users benefit. Economists refer to this as a positive network externality.
The Metcalfe Effect in computer science: for a network of (n) nodes, the total number of possible connections is (n * (n - 1)) / 2
You can see a visual depiction in the photo on the right. The Metcalfe Effect can actually be expressed as a mathematical formula — (n * (n-1)) / 2 — indicating the total number of possible connections between n nodes in a network. 2 nodes: 1 connection. 5 nodes: 10 connections. 12 nodes: 66 connections. And so on.
Universities are essentially big incubators for a human-centric Metcalfe Effect, creating what I’d describe as a Social Network Effect. Thousands of people voluntarily choose to come into a given geographic area, sharing a common institutional affiliation for 4 years at a stretch, and in the process inevitably form connections (their social network) with those around them.
Now is every one of N.C. State‘s 33,000+ students going to connect with the other 32,299+? Of course not. But in the aggregate, more connections are formed than would be otherwise.
I’ve seen this Social Network Effect get routinely derided by conservative pundits for years — “We’re supposed to be teaching kids to get jobs! Not to have fun!” blah blah blah rabble rabble rabble.
But the criticisms overlook basic realities of how economics works: information asymmetry is an impediment to maximum economic efficiency, and our personal networks help to distribute information and reduce that asymmetry as a result. This is the reason why the extent and quality of your personal network influences the resources you can obtain.
To make a long story short (these kinds of debates can get über-long), basically with the Social Network Effect at universities you get more people forging more numerous and economically higher-quality connections with more other people, producing a greater quantity and quality of economic interaction — better matches between employers and employees, producers and consumers, new business ventures, and so on.
The Foundational Knowledge Effect:
I couldn’t come up with a cool-sounding name for this one
One of my minors at N.C. State was in economics, and to get there we had to read a lot of different books / essays / writings / etc. Out of everything economics-related that I’ve read, economist William Easterly’s The Elusive Quest for Growth ranks among my Top 2 favorites.
A former economist with the World Bank, Easterly’s book discusses the various “panaceas” touted by the developed world for trying to improve third-world countries (things like debt forgiveness, building schools, and the like) and why most of them simply don’t work. While the book overall is excellent, what particularly jumped out to me in reading it was Easterly’s thorough exploration of the role of knowledge in the economy.
In a nutshell: knowledge is cumulative and builds off of itself.
This is why, if you look at the economic growth rates of various countries over the last century, countries tend to hit a certain point where their per capita GDP accelerates exponentially rather than just linearly — the “core” level of knowledge among the populace hits a threshold point where it can then take greater advantage of new advances and discoveries, accelerating growth further and leading to even more such discoveries.
As an example, you couldn’t simply teleport back to California in 1900, give someone the laptop you brought with you, and expect Silicon Valley to spring up decades ahead of time when the country hasn’t seen a radio or TV yet. Easterly discusses this reality in the context of African tribes cut off from the outside world, suddenly immersed in modern tech innovations when approached by missionaries: they pick up on it eventually, it just takes a long time when that foundational knowledge doesn’t exist.
Just like universities are great voluntary creches for nurturing social networks, so too are they among the most-effective means for building “core” knowledge in the populace. The widespread ubiquity of technology, access to the latest research, the exposure to knowledge that comes from building a social network in itself — all of this contributes to everyone’s foundation of knowledge, enabling a higher degree of economic growth at a faster pace than we’d have otherwise simply from mere exposure to it (and even more if it’s retained).
I have to cut this entry here because WordPress says I’ve already hit 1,300 words, but my main point is this: the Social Network Effect and the Foundational Knowledge Effect, taken together, lead to a situation where the economic loss that comes from taxing away private money and diverting it to a public purpose is recouped and then outweighed by the economic gain from reducing information asymmetry and increasing the scope and speed of innovation in the marketplace.
In other words, just looking at the economics alone and ignoring any other incidental benefits, funding the University of North Carolina is a net benefit for the State and its taxpayers.
The conservatives in the North Carolina General Assembly should take notice and give embodiment to the words written in Article IX, Section 9 of the State’s Constitution: “The General Assembly shall provide that the benefits of The University of North Carolina and other public institutions of higher education, as far as practicable, be extended to the people of the State free of expense.”
And I might be going out on a limb here, but I’d guess cutting 15% of the University’s budget and prompting 4-figure tuition increases don’t really mesh with that.
Have a good night y’all!
From the law:/dev/null Unsolicited Commentary archives:
Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Aug 12, 2011 in Unsolicited Commentary
Tonight’s entry was originally going to focus on some of the economic unpleasantness unfolding at NCCU Law courtesy of our state legislature’s emasculation of North Carolina’s university system.
But Twitter is temporarily sending me in a different direction
One of the highlights from attending the ABA’s Annual Meeting was finding out who are among the most prolific law Tweeters, most of whom used the #ABAannual hashtag to keep their followers updated on what was going on.
Is reasonable reliance on law school stats even possible in the Google era?
David Pardue of @georgiatriallaw is one of those folks, and he mentioned this story in the Wall Street Journal about a class action lawsuit filed against Cooley Law School (by its own graduates) over the school’s disclosed employment statistics.
I’ve posted our Twitter convo on the right so you’ve got an idea of where this entry is going
Now let me preface the rest of my commentary by saying I don’t disagree with anything David has tweeted. He’s right about the reasonableness of these students’ reliance on Cooley’s stats being a key issue in the case. I suspect/hope he’s also right about law schools being less inclined to screw with their numbers as a result of this lawsuit. And I agree that the court will be considering the circumstances as they existed at the time these students first enrolled, not as they exist today.
Let me also say here (just so I don’t have to repeat it later) that the response from Cooley Law’s general counsel Jim Thelen to blame the ABA is also shamelessly disingenuous. There’s nothing at all preventing any law school from collecting and releasing far more granular employment data on its graduates — they simply choose not to do so for fear of looking bad from the results.
But with those two caveats out of the way, this is another case of only focusing on the Big Bad Law Schools. I stand by the implication of my admittedly rhetorical question to David on Twitter: can any law school student who enrolled after the proliferation of Google really claim they reasonably relied on a law school’s employment statistics?
Ignore the fact that you can probably count on one hand the number of law students you know who actually based their decision to go to law school in any part on a given school’s stated employment statistics; even though I’ve never met one, I’m assuming arguendo that they do in fact exist. I’m also assuming, simply because they claimed it in the complaint they filed (h/t to Above the Law for this entry on the lawsuit), that the named plaintiffs in McDonald v. Cooley are among them.
Look at when these folks graduated though: 2 of the 4 graduated in 2010, meaning they began enrollment in either 2007 (if full-time) or 2006 (if part-time); the 3rd graduated in 2008, meaning enrollment in 2005 or 2004; and the 4th graduated in 2006, meaning she enrolled in 2003 or 2002.
Google, by contrast, began in 1996. Its world-famous PageRank search algorithm won patent protection in 2001. It already had 50%+ of the global marketshare for search engines by the time the earliest of the 4 named plaintiffs ever decided to attend Cooley Law, reaching such ubiquity that Merriam-Webster added the verb “to Google” to the dictionary in 2006.
And if through some miracle this well-educated class of plaintiffs had never heard of Google, they still could have used search engines on Yahoo!, or MSN, or AOL, or Lycos, or AltaVista, or Ask Jeeves, or…
…you get the point
It’s pretty safe to say the concept of internet search was already a widespread and well-ingrained phenomenon before any of these students enrolled, particularly among the well-educated, and has grown even more widespread and even more well-ingrained the later in time that enrollment choice was made.
“But TDot!” you exclaim, “Just because search engines were available doesn’t mean these students would have found anything of concern!”
Which brings me to the 2nd prong of this analysis: people have known law schools were juicing their employment statistics for most of the past decade.
With my own search on Google.com, I came across this 2007 piece from the Wall Street Journal on the imploding legal job market. Here’s a snippet, with emphases added by me:
Hard Case: Job Market Wanes for U.S. Lawyers
Growth of Legal Sector Lags Broader Economy; Law Schools Proliferate
SEPTEMBER 24, 2007
By AMIR EFRATI
…Evidence of a squeezed market among the majority of private lawyers in the U.S., who work as sole practitioners or at small firms, is growing. A survey of about 650 Chicago lawyers published in the 2005 book “Urban Lawyers” found that between 1975 and 1995 the inflation-adjusted average income of the top 25% of earners, generally big-firm lawyers, grew by 22% — while income for the other 75% actually dropped.
According to the Internal Revenue Service, the inflation-adjusted average income of sole practitioners has been flat since the mid-1980s. A recent survey showed that out of nearly 600 lawyers at firms of 10 lawyers or fewer in Indiana, wages for the majority only kept pace with inflation or dropped in real terms over the past five years.
The news isn’t any better for the 14% of new lawyers who go into government or join public-interest firms. Inflation-adjusted starting salaries for graduates who go to work for public-interest firms or the government rose 4% and 8.6%, respectively, between 1994 and 2006, according to the National Association for Law Placement, which aggregates graduate surveys from law schools. That compares with at least an 11% jump in the median family income during the same period, according to the Census Bureau…
Sure this piece only talks about solos and government/public-interest attorneys. But I also found that in under 30 seconds earlier today. Just 30 seconds, despite 4 years’ worth of new websites and blogs and other data Google has indexed clogging up my 2011 search results.
In other words, had any of these students done a same or similar search in 2007 (or earlier), they could have found the exact same IRS / BLS / NALP data indicating a difficult legal job environment in the exact same amount of time (or less!) with a much better signal:noise ratio than I’m getting now.
And that’s not even getting into the “common sense” factor here: you know there’s a stagnant legal market if for no other reason than living in an economy barely recovering from the September 11th attacks (and ensuing diversion of resources to improve homeland security), and yet you really believe your law school had a 90%+ employment rate? While nearly every other law school in the country claimed 90%+ employment over the exact same time?
Now I’m not the type to categorically trash all graduates from a law school, so I have to assume this “I really didn’t know! I really did reasonably rely on this data even though contradictory information from more reputable sources was literally right at my fingertips! Really!” mentality is atypical of Cooley Law graduates.
But this particular argument requires the willing suspension of disbelief to be plausible — and like the other works from whence that phrase was derived, this lawsuit should be recognized for the fiction that it is
Have a great Friday night and an amazing weekend everybody!
Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Aug 6, 2011 in Unsolicited Commentary
Good evening folks!
Day 3 of the ABA’s 2011 Annual Meeting features the “Assembly” portion of the ABA Law Student Division, where representatives from all the law schools in attendance convene legislature-style to debate and vote on various resolutions, along with the usual end-of-year awards and speeches as old officers retire and new officers begin their terms.
If memory serves me correctly, there were 174 delegates in attendance representing just 99 law schools — an unfortunate reminder of how many of the 199 law schools nationwide had -0- presence at this meeting.
While other resolutions certainly had more contentious debate — a proposal asking law schools to elicit more information from students claiming Native American heritage was adopted in a heavily-split vote — the item that bothered me was known as Resolution 111B, adopted by the ABA Young Lawyers Division in February and dubbed its “Truth in Law School Education” resolution.
You can read some of the details about the TILSE document in this February piece at the ABA Journal. Essentially the resolution demands that law school’s provide greater disclosure of the employment survey data they collect from recent graduates, so prospective students will have a more accurate gauge of their employment prospects before taking on six-figures’ worth of loan debt to get a law degree. The YLD then handed the resolution to the LSD to ask for the students’ endorsement.
Generally, good stuff…
…but it was readily apparent this particular agenda item was less about its content than it was about good ol’ fashioned logrolling. When the YLD representative gave his report on the topic, his first words weren’t about the resolution — he instead made sure to note that YLD was “standing behind you” on an unrelated resolution seeking to get voting power for the LSD representative to the ABA’s Board of Governors. One of the LSD delegates even tried various linguistic twists (contortions rivaling the very best yoga practitioners) to insist the resolution “doesn’t add any additional burdens on law schools” because “we can’t make demands, we can only make recommendations.”
Which is just as well, because the resolution’s contents as-written are woefully insufficient.
In typical American fashion, the YLD has taken a two-part equation and expended untold hours and vast sums of energy focusing on only one side of it: the Big Bad Law Schools and the games we all know those schools play with their employment statistics.
But a key contributor that enables law schools to play those games with statistics are the less-than-100% response rates from their newly minted (and likely newly licensed) law school graduates, who are often too busy to waste time with filling out a form they have -0- incentive to complete. When someone doesn’t return a survey, do they count as employed? Unemployed? Excluded from the dataset entirely? The methodologies relating to those questions are among the core issues underlying the skewed stats.
That problem is also compounded for HBCUs and other law schools where the bulk of students go into public interest professions. When following your passion barely lets you pay the bills, you can’t exactly take even more unpaid time from your daily schedule to fill out even more paperwork.
So in typical T. fashion, as an advocate for my law school I decided to raise an issue no one else seemed interested in bringing up. I submitted a page-long form to speak that contained the following innocuous statement:
The American Bar Association Law Students Division (ABA-LSD) embraces a “full spectrum” approach to improving Truth in Law School Education, including both greater data disclosure and more comprehensive data collection. To promote that objective, the ABA-LSD encourages the American Bar Association to petition state bars (or equivalent licensing agencies) to grant some form of Continuing Legal Education credit to graduates who complete and return post-graduation employment surveys.
CLE credit: a simple and easy solution.
Using North Carolina as an example, even a single Professional Responsibility credit would incentivize new lawyers to reply by letting them meet 1/12 of their annual CLE obligations, all at no cost beyond the time spent completing it.
Yet like every other group that frowns upon people rocking the boat, actually considering ideas that weren’t pre-vetted by the folks in charge was verboten — my attempted amendment was somehow ruled out of order by the presiding officer by citing some illusory “protocol” that decreed “we cannot amend another group’s resolution.” The unamended resolution was then passed by voice vote with only token opposition.
Regardless of the LSD’s take on the issue, however, the fact remains that the YLD is raising this great hue and cry over law school employment statistics without making a comprehensive effort to fix it. The ABA’s full House of Delegates will be taking this document up over the next few days, and will likely adopt it in its unaltered form — and we’ll all get to listen over the next few years as these new “reforms” still fail to fully address the problem.
Here’s hoping someone over there has the cajones to at least propose a full spectrum solution…
From the law:/dev/null ABA Annual Meeting-related archives:
Posted by T. Greg Doucette on May 29, 2011 in Unsolicited Commentary
The first batch of 1L grades got posted Tuesday here at NCCU Law… in turn prompting the first batch of telephone calls from panicked 1Ls worried about their performance
Second, repeat after me: “My 1L grades don’t matter.”
Yeah I said it. Your 1L grades do. not. matter.
I’ve mentioned before that NCCU Law is one of the few law schools that still follows a strict-C median, and also academically dismisses any student who falls below a 2.0 at the end of any year (all the way up through 3L/4LE). Although I’m not a fan of the dismissal policy, my personal $.02 is that the low C-curve helps produce better-prepared attorneys; apparently I’m part of an “old school” worldview that looks at grades as providing feedback primarily to the student, not to the outside world.
Unfortunately the C curve also means folks who coasted through undergrad with no serious criticism and near-perfect GPAs (often thanks to B+ curves that are becoming the norm nationwide) are only now learning they can’t be superior at everything (cue the faces).
“But TDot, you don’t understand! I made the top 10%!”
Congratulations! I really, truly, seriously am proud of you (seriously)… and it still doesn’t matter Yes, you now get to grade on to law review without having to do these agonizing BlueBook exercises. But they don’t give out bonus points in 2L and 3L classes just because you did well as a 1L. The material you’ll be learning is more expansive, the training wheels are taken off, and in the electives you’ll be taking as a 2L you’re going to be held to the same standards as everyone else — including us 3Ls in class with you
“But TDot, you don’t understand! I’m only at [some number ≥2.0] and I will never get into BigLaw and my life is ruined and omg omg omg!”
A few points here: (1) it doesn’t matter; (2) 90% of us didn’t make the top 10% either (and are doing just fine might I add); and (3) if the blawgosphere is to be believed, there are Ivy League kids with perfect GPAs who still can’t get into BigLaw… yet we’ve got several classmates and graduates doing just that, including at least one out West whose 1L GPA was below mine. The position was advertised on the jobs board, she submitted her résumé and an impeccably-edited writing sample, snagged an interview and took it from there.
While some firms will ignore applicants below a certain threshold GPA, many provide interviews based on factors beyond raw metrics. If you really do want to work in BigLaw (I’m judging you for it, jsyk ) then your work experience over this summer, coupled with your willingness to network and prepare an immaculate writing sample, will play a bigger role in the 2L job hunt than your 1L GPA.
Oh, I forgot: you also have 2 more years to bring your GPA up
“But TDot, you don’t understand! I’m only at [some number <2.0] and I will never make it through law school and my life is ruined and omg omg omg!”
OK so in your case your 1L GPA will have a bit more of an impact, something I saw first-hand as most of my good friends during 1L year didn’t make it back for 2L year. But, if you still want to become an attorney and you’re dedicated to making it happen, these 1L grades still don’t matter.
First, figure out what happened; some of you had difficult personal or family situations that were beyond your control, some of you dug a hole in the Fall that was too deep to climb out of, some of you just had a bad day. Whatever the reason, use this upcoming year to get things squared away. Pick up your exams from your professors and see where things went wrong; if writing was a weakness, work with a writing coach. If it was something personal, do what you can to resolve the situation(s) or at least minimize the impact they’ll have on you in the future. Tie up loose ends. And generally position yourself to make a compelling case to the Admissions Committee when you appeal for readmission next year.
The main thing to remember, regardless of which of these categories you happen to be in, is that nothing is impossible. You’re reading a blog written by a guy who was booted from college as a sophomore, boasting a 1.x GPA and a $16K-ish debt to my future alma mater. I got back, got graduated, got into law school — and had an almost-criminal amount of fun along the way once I stopped fearing failure
And I still found a (well-paid) law job even after my 1L grades were safely below the Top 10%. Don’t believe me? Check my transcripts for yourself:
There’s nothing any of us can do to change any of our grades — so why stress about them? Instead of letting your grades run your life, do what needs to be done so you run your life.
Trust me: if I can do it you can too Good night y’all!
Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Jan 9, 2011 in Unsolicited Commentary
By now I’m guessing all of you have heard about the horrific massacre that happened yesterday in Tuscon, Arizona. I was oblivious to what was going on until the NCSU-WFU basketball game I was watching got interrupted for a news alert.
The rush to be wrong first was nothing short of disgusting. Within minutes of me updating my Facebook status to express my bewilderment, wondering aloud if Mexican drug cartels were involved — what I thought was a rational question given Arizona’s immigration debates and Tuscon only being 60 miles from the border — a colleague felt the urge to explain that it was “a teabagger hit,” a refrain repeated across Twitter, Facebook and the media as shameless liberals seized on the tragedy moments after it happened to score political points and attack people they don’t like (while apparently forgetting they were often the exact same folks urging people not to jump to conclusions about the Ft. Hood terrorist attack last year).
Then someone somewhere stumbled across the psycho’s YouTube page and discovered he was a flag-burning atheist who listed among his favorite books Mein Kampf and The Communist Manifesto, not exactly common character traits and reading materials among the tea party set or the broader conservative/Republican bloc. Turns out that the guy is an utter fruitcake (as most rational people assumed) who defies political pigeonholing.
As one person commented on Twitter, “[b]oth sides miss the hypocrisy of their political gamesmanship in tying a mentally ill person to the other aisle’s politics.”
But the disgraceful hypocrisy of the political discourse created by the very people whining about the political discourse isn’t the reason I bring up that tragedy, so that’s all I’m gonna say on that particular aspect of it.
Later that same day, I found out that the Pennsylvania police discovered Sister of TDot wandering along the side of a highway. When they asked what in God’s name she was doing, she explained that everything in the house (that she shares with my parents) was radioactive and making her sick. She was committed to a psychiatric institution — but not before having thrown away everything in the house while my parents were out of town, from family photos and kitchen utensils all the way down to the food in the refrigerator.
Things can always be replaced and I’m thankful no one was physically hurt. I come from a family of limited means (hence why I had to drop out of college back in 2000) so I’m not sure what my parents are going to do, but they and my sister are all alive.
The bigger issue is that things shouldn’t have been allowed to get that far. My sister’s mental condition has been steadily deteriorating over at least the last 10 years. She’s intentionally broken things around the house. She’s threatened to kill my mother. She’s rummaged through my mom’s purse when mom was in surgery, reading her text messages in search of conspiracies while taking money to buy drugs. But while other family members (myself included) pointed out that things weren’t right, my parents and my brother have either been in denial or just unwilling to take serious action — Sister of TDot was involuntarily committed once before (after the death threat if memory serves me correctly), but because she’s over 18 she successfully petitioned to be released and within the week was off her meds and back living with my parents.
Now it’s déjà vu all over again, and I really don’t know what to think or feel about the situation.
We live in an overly-medicated society focused on avoiding personal responsibility at all costs, one where psychiatrists and doctors have developed a syndrome for almost every vice. Do poorly on a test? You must have ADHD. Drowning in credit card debt? You’re a compulsive shopaholic. Can’t keep your marriage vows and f*cking anything with two breasts and a vagina? Gotta be a sex addiction.
But when it comes to serious mental illness, the stuff that can get someone killed — schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression and so on — it seems folks are content ignoring it or making excuses for it or doing the bare minimum possible to avoid legal liability without actually fixing the problem. Just scroll back to that AZ shooter story for an example: the would-be assassin’s community college had him thrown out because he was mentally ill and the armed services rejected him for the same reason, yet no one reported him to any mental health authority to get help… and now at least a half-dozen people (including a 9-year-old girl) are dead because of it.
I’m sorry for the downbeat and dour entry tonight y’all, I’m just in a really despondent and “ugh” mood right now. If you think you or a loved one might have a mental illness, please talk to someone about it and try to get help before something happens and it’s too late.
And I’ll have something more chipper tomorrow, I promise
Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Nov 14, 2010 in Unsolicited Commentary
Good evening y’all!
Yesterday I finally finished editing this entry on the monetary costs-vs-benefits of law school, which pulled together some easily-accessible data based on my own work history, ADA salaries in North Carolina, my tuition and fee payments for both N.C. State and NCCU Law, and so on.
Recognizing that it only took me about 2 hours for the data gathering / spreadsheet making / graphic creating / writing / editing, I didn’t tout it as a comprehensive panacea of analysis — even going so far as pointing out “[d]ata-driven analyses like this are, in a word, pointless. There are simply too many variables involved to produce anything useful[.]”
But that didn’t stop the comments on the post from being uniformly negative
All the commenters raised points worth considering though, so rather than limit discussion to the comments section of that particular thread I figured I’d do a copy/paste in a separate entry with my responses.
For clarity, I’m using the same snippet-by-snippet response style I ran with in deconstructing the Pope Center’s hit piece on me way back in March. If you haven’t already done so, I’d encourage you to read yesterday’s entry and the comments yourself just so there are no concerns about me misrepresenting what was said
Here we go…
Aaron Massey: Since we’re both American, this might be completely anti-cultural, but I think you’re calculations are still significantly off because you’re not accounting for retirement savings plans. The head start on retirement that both the HS diploma and the BA/BS degree would have can make a big difference once you start factoring it in. A higher income is nice, but so is compound annual interest/stock appreciation.
I didn’t include any mention of retirement savings in my post, because it’s simply not relevant to the discussion
If you take a look at the “caveats” section of the entry, my only requirement is that any money earned during college or law school can’t go to defraying education expenses — done solely to artificially magnify the cost of that education for the purpose of the analysis.
The vast majority of college students work, which is why the common categorization of years in school as a true “opportunity cost” barely holds water (and retains even less). If a freshman wants to set up a 401(k) and put money into it from his side job, he wouldn’t run afoul of my analysis. Similarly, there’s nothing stopping a law student from taking a chunk of their financial aid refund or earnings from a summer associateship and socking that into a retirement plan as well.
Now in both cases they’d be better off financially by paying down their student loans, since their long-run net return on investments will likely be less than the 8% loan interest rate I’m using. But if they did that I couldn’t artificially inflate the student loan interest for the analysis
If we assume students can and do work (but simply don’t defray education costs), a corollary question may be “Will they be putting away as much as someone working full-time?” And the answer to that is “It depends.”
Unlike the full-time employee, typically students get to have their living expenses (rent, electricity, etc) rolled into their financial aid package; it’s why economic analyses typically show traditional college-aged students having the highest discretionary income of any age group. Under those circumstances, a student could easily put away a comparable amount for retirement if they had the inclination to do so.
Since planning for retirement isn’t precluded by my analysis and could easily be done by all three hypothetical students, I think for this particular analysis we’d lose more from the confusion inherent in tackling too many issues than we’d gain from discussing 401(k)s and related savings plans
Aaron Massey: Also, I also think you’re generic approach to the four year college degree is a little difficult to justify. Some degrees (like computer engineering) have starting salaries that average about $60,000. Others are almost half that.
Could some folks start out making more money? Of course. But similar to bringing in the discussion of retirement savings, expanding the analysis to include a litany of possible starting salaries for the BS/BA track adds a lot of noise without much signal.
For example, if we’re going to differentiate degrees like computer engineering to account for the higher salaries, it’d only be fair analytically to also differentiate the law track to rely on that expertise — an attorney doing IP-related litigation before the US Patent & Trademarks Office will be making far more than the ADA salaries I included
Synthetic Work-Life Earnings Estimates by Degree
The generic approach also has the benefit of its reasonableness being reviewable against aggregate data compiled by the government. For example, the U.S. Census Bureau produced this compilation titled “The Big Payoff” analyzing data on average salaries and synthetic work-life earnings by education level, gender, race, and so on.
Based on the government’s compilation, I’ve overestimated lifetime earnings of the diploma-only worker by ~$150K, underestimated the BS/BA earnings by only ~$53K, but underestimated professional degree earnings by ~$1,698K (aka $1.7M). The rhetoric about them being “difficult to justify” notwithstanding, my numbers are generally in line with the government’s except for the legal salary (that I’ve gratuitously underestimated).
So while a more-nuanced approach might provide a minimal amount of added clarity (at the expense of a lot more reading), I’ve already tilted the numbers so far in favor of the non-law school route that doing so isn’t particularly meaningful.
Aaron Massey: Still, the most important problem with this sort of raw calculation is that your disclaimers in the preliminaries are far more important than the rest of the post. “Worth it” is a question of happiness, which is often not at all about money. Sometimes, life happens and no amount of money will help.
I wholeheartedly agree, 110%. It’s why I linked to Jack Whittington’s entry on that very topic, and why the “I’d have more fun doing law” argument was central to my email to BL1Y.
But since Jack already covered the “Happiness is important” route, and BL1Y covered the “You’re not going to be happy” route, that left me with only the financials
Aaron Massey: Realistically, the best advice anyone considering law school can receive about whether it is “worth it” is this: “Don’t just think that you’re going to be better off financially; run some numbers using some potential scenarios, including one in which you abandon law altogether. Also, don’t just think that more money will actually make you happier; be honest about what your life goals really are.”
I agree with everything here except the first word — strike “Realistically” and replace it with “Ideally”
Realistically, almost no one’s going to do that level of analysis… which is why I did it for them
BL1Y: A lot of the trouble with students going in to law school is that they look at data like this and see law school as an investment. It’s not.
If you sit on the couch eating potato chips every day, your JD doesn’t bring in any money. If you go back to your old job, your JD typically won’t get you a raise (especially if compared against 3 lost years of seniority). A JD is merely a credential on your resume that may, or may not, make certain new job paths available to you.
What many law students don’t realize going in is how much work is then required. The JD doesn’t bring you any extra income, you do. You have to work for it.
I’m not entirely sure there’s a point here.
The same complaints you’re levying against a JD are also true of a BS/BA, but I don’t think that means we make the leap to saying folks should avoid giving up 4 years and various sums of $$$ to get a college degree.
BL1Y: And, for many people, the stress, boredom, long hours, and shitty atmosphere are not worth the increase in salary.
And, what makes law school a particularly shitty “investment” is that until you start working after graduation, you really have no idea whether you’ll like it or not.
This is a perfectly fair criticism, though I think you overstate the ability to figure out if someone would like law or not before going to law school.
There’s nothing preventing an aspiring law student from performing a little due diligence by trying to get a job in the legal arena and/or talking extensively with current practitioners. Is it going to be a perfectly accurate representation of actually living the life of a BigLaw associate? Not at all. But it should provide at least enough of an idea that it would remove “Am I going to be content / not hate my life?” as a concern before going in.
And once they’re in, if for some reason they haven’t done their research beforehand, at the very least they should learn whether or not they hate it through summer associateships or clinic work or something similar — hopefully in time to bail out before tacking on another 2 years of student loan debt.
If they haven’t done any due diligence at all before or in law school, or they have but pride stops them from getting out even though it’s not for them, they can’t then turn around and claim unfair surprise when they enter the job market and hate what they do for a living. As Professor Ks said last year, “Laziness is not a defense.”
BL1Y: The huge rates in depression, drug abuse, and suicide indicate a very high risk of being stuck in a job you hate. In fact, it’s probably easier to get a job in Big Law than to get an enjoyable one.
I concede I’ve got rose-colored glasses on this one, having already “enjoyed” the life of a homeless college dropout myself. I’d happily trade a sh*tty work environment that at least keeps bills paid over having to sleep in a shelter next to Bob the Crackhead and wondering if my personal effects will be pilfered by Methamphetamine Jane by the time I wake up
But, more broadly, concerns over work environment are applicable to the BS/BA folks and the diploma-only people too. That’s the nature of just about any marketplace.
My suspicion is that the higher incidents of the various pathologies you noted are more the result of higher reporting, since lawyers play higher up the socioeconomic ladder — it’s easier to be an addict when you’ve got the money to spare, and to hire a therapist to talk about your depression when you actually get health insurance benefits and vacation time that you can take without wondering how your rent’s going to get paid.
Va.: I was really looking forward to this post, but I’ve got to say I’m a little disappointed with the methodology.
It was a quick post by a current student cobbled together on ACC football Saturday — cut me some slack
Va.: I also think that your analysis doesn’t really capture the “worst case” scenario that I’m seeing play out among people I know. Your expectations of being able to obtain a job after law school are certainly reasonable (or at least they should be), and you seem to have no illusions (unlike many law students) about how easily $160k jobs are to come by. However, despite applying for any and every job they see (including ADA positions), many people I know aren’t employed. I know people who graduated in 2008 who are still doing temp attorney contract work. Some can’t even get that. A lot of people aren’t doing what they set out to do or have had to make geographic compromises that take them away from friends and family. Although I certainly hope you find a job before graduation or soon thereafter, being unemployed for 6 months to a year or more can start you off in a financial hole that can be pretty difficult to get yourself back out of. The uncertainty is stressful and “settling” for jobs you don’t want lowers your quality of life.
Unemployment is a legit point, and one I thought about when I was writing the entry.
But I opted to exclude it as the “worst case” scenario because the overwhelming majority of people still find jobs. Even acknowledging the games law schools play with their employment data, few schools have 6-month employment rates below 80%. It didn’t make sense (to me at least) to tailor the analysis toward the other 20%, particularly when the economy will likely be turned around by the time 2013 gets here.
If we want to factor in unemployment, though, it can be done fairly easily from an economics perspective by weighting the results. Essentially we’d take the projected work-life earnings and multiply by the percent probability of being employed, e.g. the $2.7M x 80% if we assume permanent 20% unemployment for the person’s entire work-life.
Doing comparable calculations for the other two columns makes law school less attractive from a marginal cost-benefit standpoint, but still a financially better option than just high school or just college even factoring in law school costs.
I’m less sympathetic on the “they’re not doing what they want yet” argument, but that’s also out of my own personal bias than any rational reason. My first job after dropping out of N.C. State was loading UPS trucks from 3am-8am Monday-Friday; it didn’t pay much and definitely wasn’t what I wanted to do, but it kept a (non-crackhead-containing) roof over my head and helped shore up my financial foundation while I looked for better work. The same principle applies to the law grads — I know it’s not much consolation to the people stuck in that situation, but where you start isn’t where you end up
Va.: And a good chunk of law schools are private and have much higher tuition than you do.
Very true… but a point that doesn’t necessarily change my conclusion
On the one hand, I concede that plopping in cost data for other law schools affects the lucrativeness when using my salary numbers.
On the other hand, students have a choice in what law school they attend as far as cost is concerned. Using me as an example, NCCU Law was my first choice because UNCCH Law charged twice as much despite similar bar passage rates and employment prospects in North Carolina (which is where I’d prefer to stay professionally).
And on the third hand, in many cases the more expensive schools also have better employment rates and salaries — a point you yourself made to me back in January
Va.: Anyway, I think your conclusion should probably be a bit more cautious in tone. If you don’t get the job you want, or any job at all (god forbid…), then the evaluation would certainly change.
This is probably true. But would any of y’all still read this blog if I wasn’t flippant most of the time?
Besides, if I don’t end up where I want maybe BL1Y will let me join him, Namby Pamby and Nando in the Cynics Club
So that’s my rebuttal y’all
Have any comments / criticisms / witticisms / thoughts of your own? Please post them below
Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Nov 13, 2010 in Unsolicited Commentary
Just over a month ago, I shot an email to BL1Y as part of his open-ended challenge to defend reasons for going to law school. I wouldn’t characterize his counter-argument as bulletproof, but I doubt it was meant to be — BL1Y has staked out his niche as a sardonically dismissive critic of the legal arena (“Defunct Big Law Associate” as he puts it) and he excels at it, so he’d be stepping out of character to offer anything beyond a cursory rebuttal.
I’m comfortable letting the man own his chosen niche
But then a few weeks ago Jack Whittington over at World Wide Whit posted an entry on the non-monetary side of law school’s value. It’s a good read, and prompted a colleague to remind me of the BL1Y entry and ask me for my thoughts on the financials.
Fast forward past my weeks of slacking on the blog posts, and you get this entry
Is law school really worth it, just looking at the money involved? To borrow the title of Thursday’s entry, “Yes, but…”
I. THE PRELIMINARIES
Data-driven analyses like this are, in a word, pointless. There are simply too many variables involved to produce anything useful for more than a couple people in a very narrowly-defined set of circumstances.
Anyone that tells you otherwise is lying to you. Period.
But with that disclaimer out of the way, having the data to look at it can still provide some insights — particularly if you happen to fall in that narrowly-defined set of circumstances
For this entry, I’m using myself: a mediocre student at an unranked Tier 4 law school interested in becoming a prosecutor in the same state.
II. THE CAVEATS
As you’d probably expect, there are a lot of these
- Generally, these stipulations (and even the data itself) are intentionally focused on producing the worst-possible case for law school. If law school’s still “worth it” under this worst-case analysis, by default it’s “worth it” under normal circumstances.
- This is also a “cash only” analysis. On income, I’m only counting salaries and excluding benefits since they’re difficult to value. On costs, I’m only counting tuition and mandatory fees; optional expenses are excluded since they’re… well… optional
- All of the income scenarios assume someone starting at 18 years old and “retiring” at 55 years old.
- The starting point for each income column is based on the data sets in Section III below.
- For the diploma-only column, it assumes a +$2K/yr raise over each of the first 5 years. My rationale is that a non-degree-holder will usually get very close to their (generally low) salary limit in the marketplace fairly early in their career.
- In terms of inflation / cost-of-living raises, after the initial 5 years the diploma-only column assumes a 2% raise per year. For the BS/BA column, it assumes a 2.5% raise per year. And for the JD column, it (i) uses the 20-year step structure the state government uses for salary increases in the first 20 years, (ii) assumes no additional salary range increases during those 20 years, and (iii) projects a 1.1% salary increase for each year after maxing out at the top step.
- Feel free to quibble with me over the percentages Regardless of the specific rate, each of the 3 columns would be adjusted in tandem — and since this is a differential analysis, that limits the significance of any rate changes.
- I assume the student either (i) isn’t working during the years in college and law school, or (ii) if they are working they’re putting $0 towards defraying the cost of education (e.g. you spent all of your summer associate earnings on hookers and blow ).
- On the cost side, the law school column includes an extra $21,000 per year in student loans taken to help cover living expenses in place of a job. This amount is roughly comparable to what North Carolina law students can take before maxing out under the U.S. Department of Education standards.
- The “Tuition & Fees Total” row can be considered a proxy for total required student loan debt (plus the extra $63K for law school living).
- For the student loan interest row, I’m using a 30-year repayment at 8.0% interest. This is done intentionally — revisit the first bullet point — to maximize the amount of interest that would have to be paid out. Realistically you’ll want to refinance at a far lower rate on a shorter repayment term
III. THE DATA SOURCES
In terms of data collection, I gathered info from a few sources:
- First, I used my own tax returns from when I had dropped out of N.C. State to help approximate earnings for someone without a college degree.
- For the BS/BA column, the starting amount was based on a survey of several of my friends who are alumni of N.C. State’s Department of Computer Science along with about a dozen other alumni from various disciplines (including the lower-paying humanities degrees common among law students).
NALP salary data for 2009
- On the law column, I downloaded all of the ADA salaries in North Carolina from the News & Observer’s Data Central portal that includes a list of all state employees and their salaries. To check the reasonableness of using this data, I also grabbed one of the spiffy graphics from the National Association for Law Placement on reported salaries in the legal industry. For salaries reported to NALP this past year, 95%+ of attorneys make $40,000 and up. Their curve correlates well with the ADA salary data, which tops out around $120K for some ADAs who’ve been around for 30ish years.
- For the undergraduate cost info, I used the tuition and fee data from my last year at N.C. State multiplied by four years. For law school I did the same thing, using this year’s rates at NCCU Law and multiplying by three years. In both cases these end up producing overestimated expenses — since tuition and fees were both cheaper last year, and the cheaper still the year before — but the difference isn’t significant enough to matter.
IV. THE EARNINGS
Putting all of this together, here’s the chart of annual salaries over time:
Raw salary data from 18 to 55
The green cells are years where someone is working. The red cells are “in school” / opportunity cost years, where the student either isn’t working at all or is working to pay for stuff other than their education. And the yellow cells depict how long it would take to “pay off” the cost of education if 100% of the salary was devoted solely to paying off education-related debts.
Remember the latter item is an artificial construct for illustration only — realistically folks will be repaying student loan debts for years, not putting their entire salary toward it. And we’re intentionally using a 30-year repayment schedule to artificially inflate the cost of law school
Also remember this chart is for “providing a common starting point for talking” purposes only. It has -0- predictive value. We all control our own destinies; if someone’s not making enough money, they can find a way to make more — it just might involve making decisions they’re not comfortable making. But in general no one is stuck doing the same thing for 30 years if they really want to do something else
V. THE ANALYSIS
So now we have roughly what our hypothetical earnings would be if we worked until 55 years old with (i) just a high school diploma, (ii) a college degree in an average major, or (iii) a law degree working as an ADA in North Carolina.
Now let’s bring in the cost data and do some comparison. Here’s a quick chart showing how things shake out:
Even after repaying law school, the JD earns more than the BS/BA
So under this model an average college graduate can reasonably expect to make an average of ~$18K more a year than someone with just high school diploma, enabling them to “pay off” their education in 3 years and 1 month. Factor in the cost of repaying that schooling and the net advantage over a diploma-only worker drops ever-so-slightly to +$17K/year, or roughly $605K over a 33-year career.
Using this same model, the soon-to-be-ADA can reasonably expect to bring in ~$409K more during his career than his baccalaureate-bearing friend — even after the 3 additional years of “opportunity cost” and the expense of paying off student loan debt that’s almost 6x more (and working 3 fewer years to boot).
VI. SO IS LAW SCHOOL REALLY WORTH IT?
It certainly is for me
Even with working a government job and staying there permanently, I’m looking at making at least $1,000 more per month than I would with just my college degree. And that’s making the (hopefully false) assumption I’m not competent enough to earn more. It also doesn’t include any assistance from foundations like NCLEAF, which provides $$$ for student loan repayment for lawyers working in the public interest arena.
And, as Jack noted in the post I linked up at the top, I’ll be doing something far more enjoyable to me than being a script monkey in a cubicle
But, as with all of these things, your mileage may vary. If you don’t like law but think it’s a quick way to get rich, doing law school is probably a bad idea. If you’re determined to go to an expensive law school but will be tempted by suicidal thoughts if you’re one of the majority of lawyers not pulling in $160K+ a year, it’s probably a bad idea. Etc etc etc.
There you have it folks. I’m sorry it’s so long, feel free to commence with the TL;DR comments below
The moral of the story is, for me at least, deciding to pursue the law route was definitely a good idea — and I’ve got the data to back it up
Thanks for reading, and enjoy the rest of your weekend everybody!
Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Jul 21, 2010 in Unsolicited Commentary
If you’re one of those folks lucky enough to not know who Shirley Sherrod is, stop reading this entry now and go to another website This easily ranks among the very dumbest fabricated political controversies I’ve seen in awhile — and I don’t want any of you complaining that I’ve wasted minutes of your life enticing you to read about it
For everyone else keeping up on the controversy, I just have five thoughts on it:
1) Most people talking about this “controversy” are just regurgitating TV talking points
I learned that earlier today when I made a comment via Twitter and got into a pair of lengthy back-and-forth discussions with one of my old roommates at N.C. State and one of my colleagues at NCCU Law. Apparently my opinion was sufficiently outrageous that several third-party observers of our conversations felt the need to argue with me via other channels… only to later concede they hadn’t actually seen anything beyond what was reported on CNN or MSNBC.
If you’re not familiar with the incident and disregarded my opening warning to skip the rest of this entry (last chance! turn back now!), it all began on Monday with this entry at BigGovernment.com, a website run by conservative activist Andrew Breitbart. It features commentary from Breitbart claiming the NAACP is hypocritical on race issues and is coupled with two clips of Ms. Sherrod speaking at the local NAACP’s Freedom Fund Banquet. In the clips Ms. Sherrod tells a tale of being approached by a white farmer in need of help to save his farm from foreclosure, and she “didn’t give him the full force of what [she] could do” because he was white. The moral of her story was her later realization that issues of race are often more accurately characterized as issues of class, or in Ms. Sherrod’s words “it’s about poor versus those who have”.
Within a day Sherrod was forced to resign by Secretary of Agriculture Tommy Vilsack and was denounced as a racist by NAACP President Ben Jealous — both clearly overreacting out of fear they would be seen as defending reverse racism. Then everyone reversed course a day later, claiming Ms. Sherrod’s remarks were taken out of context, and the NAACP leadership even having the guile to claim it was “snookered” by Fox News (which hadn’t run anything about the story until after Ms. Sherrod was fired by Vilsack and denounced by Jealous) before posting what the NAACP claims is the “full” video on its website. The airwaves are now replete with everyone hurling the “racist” label at everyone else.
The whole thing has been so absurdly outrageous, so predictable, so orchestrated, that you’d be forgiven for thinking you were watching a movie. It’d be a farcical comedy if it wasn’t our federal government and the leadership of one of the nation’s oldest advocacy groups taking part as primary actors…
2) Shirley Sherrod shouldn’t have been fired…
Every law student in the country is familiar with the twin concepts of Statutes of Limitation and Statutes of Repose.
For the non-law-inclined, in overly-simplified terms a Statute of Limitation sets a deadline for filing a lawsuit once you realize you have a claim; they’re designed to prevent a Plaintiff from “sleeping on his/her rights” to the unfair detriment of the Defendant, who may not be able to mount a defense if records have been disposed or other evidence is lost. In North Carolina, for instance, the statute of limitations for most offenses is three years with one-year extensions in certain circumstances (such as when you don’t discover the injury until after the SOL date has passed).
In equally over-simplified terms, a Statute of Repose is kind of like a SOL on steroids. After the deadline set in the Statute of Repose you can’t file a lawsuit at all under any circumstances, even if you didn’t know you had a claim. These are most common in product liability cases, where a SOR is commonly set based on the date the product was manufactured or the date it was initially purchased by a consumer.
Both the SOL and SOR are essentially decisions by society (through our legislators) that certain offenses are more or less significant than others. Again using NC as my example, most misdemeanors have an SOL of 2 years while violent misdemeanors and felonies have no SOL at all (you might have heard the line in Law & Order episodes or other crime dramas that “There’s no statute of limitations on murder” in most jurisdictions).
Even if we assume the very worst about Ms. Sherrod — that her videotaped admission of not providing the “full force of what [she] could do” was true and a result of her personal bias toward the man seeking her help — it was an admission about something that happened over 20+ years ago. There are numerous crimes that society has decided aren’t significant enough to be prosecuted after 20+ years, along with nearly every tort in nearly every state. Had Ms. Sherrod committed professional malpractice in any other profession, the Statute of Repose in North Carolina would have passed in the mid-90s.
Unless there was some kind of indication Ms. Sherrod was still engaging in this kind of discriminatory conduct, as opposed to simply relating a story of personal growth, this particular instance in the 1980s should have been left alone as a dead issue and her job security shouldn’t have even been questioned. Instead she was thrown under the bus by her government employer and vilified by the NAACP out of fear of the political fallout if it appeared they were supporting reverse racism.
3) …but that hardly makes her a paragon of civic virtue
In a predictable fashion that only politics can provide, once the “full” video was posted the ensuing political commentary became totally unhinged from reality. Commentators started insisting that not only were Ms. Sherrod’s remarks “taken out of context” but that she had actually done nothing wrong in the first place.
Both claims make no logical sense.
If you haven’t already done so, go back to those entries I listed in #1 above — read the entry on BigGovernment.com and its video snippets, then watch the “full” video on the NAACP website. If you just want to listen to the farm-related story in the “full” video, it’s from 16:23 to 21:26.
I’ll wait until you get back
Even in Breitbart’s original entry (the one that has since been blasted by the White House and the NAACP alike as “selectively edited”) it’s clear to even a cursory observer that Ms. Sherrod’s story is one of personal growth. She was admittedly derelict in her job duties because of racial bias, but later learned “it’s about poor versus those who have” as opposed to race. That context is right there at the 1:44 mark in BigGovernment.com’s first clip, which is the same as 18:23 in the NAACP’s “full” video.
Where’s the lack of context?
The idea that her conduct was exemplary is also bizarre. Ms. Sherrod says very clearly and unambiguously that she “didn’t give him the full force of what I could do. I did enough.” That alone was bad enough, but she compounded her original failing by voluntarily picking out a white attorney for the farmer to use for filing bankruptcy since she figured “his own kind would take care of him.” It’s right there at 1:26 to 1:43 of the BigGovernment.com clip, which is the same as 18:06 to 18:21 of the NAACP’s “full” video.
It’s roughly akin to me (the farmer) drowning in a pool (the farmer’s debt), but because the lifeguard (Ms. Sherrod) is biased against fat (white) people and assumes I’ll float (escape foreclosure), he (she) decides to throw me a defective life preserver (Ms. Sherrod’s limited help) instead of diving in to rescue me (the “full force of what [Ms. Sherrod] could do”). Then when I’m still drowning he (she) throws a defective life jacket (the incompetent white bankruptcy attorney). Then when I’m a few seconds (hours) from death (foreclosure), he (she) calls over to another lifeguard (the black bankruptcy attorney) who dives in for the rescue.
Generally when a government actor has done something wrong, there is no tort liability for negligence against them when it’s an issue of nonfeasance, meaning the government actor simply has failed to take an action they were supposed to take. Tort liability for negligence typically does arise, though, when it’s an issue of misfeasance, meaning the government actor has taken some affirmative action but did so negligently and harmed the injured party as a result.
Based on Ms. Sherrod’s remarks, the farmer was smart enough to notice his white attorney (selected for him by Ms. Sherrod) was not doing his job and he would need someone else. But had the farmer not been that vigilant in monitoring what was going on and his farm been foreclosed, is there any question that he’d have an actionable claim for negligence against Ms. Sherrod?
I’m sure Ms. Sherrod is a nice lady, and I take her at her word in the speech that she no longer has her former misguided views on race that led her to not fully help a white farmer and then pick out a deficient white attorney for him. She shouldn’t have been fired.
But that doesn’t mean she should be deified instead.
4) The “full” tape isn’t even the full tape
There’s not much to say here other than wondering what’s going on behind the scenes. The “full” tape posted by the NAACP pretty clearly is not the “full” tape. If you watch it closely you’ll notice an obvious cross-fade at the 21:00 mark where something was clearly cut out.
Why would you post something for public review and claim it’s something it isn’t?
A bigger question, for me at least: why has no one in the media noticed the missing snippet, instead breathlessly repeating that it’s the “full” tape?
5) But none of it matters, because this entire controversy is stupid
I’m convinced everyone commenting on this manufactured controversy has lost their minds.
To my fellow conservatives: do any of you really think pointing out racism in the NAACP would somehow mitigate racism (if found) within the Tea Party movement? Supposedly that was Andrew Breitbart’s motivation in posting his initial entry on Monday, but I vaguely recall something called the “two wrongs make a right” fallacy — which I also vaguely recall being mentioned by Jesus himself in the Sermon on the Mount (see Matthew 5:38-42).
Following up on that question, do you think it’s wise to issue an open challenge to folks to “prove” racist elements in the Tea Party? In Wake County alone, I’ve seen Republicans claim a black sheriff was releasing detainees because of their race, and I’ve seen Democrats justify the liberal Nanny State by claiming blacks weren’t intelligent enough to take care of themselves. I’d venture to guess that you can find racists in any mass movement in the country. It seems kind of dumb to instigate that discussion — especially when, if someone were to be pointed out using racist language, they’d just be dismissed as not being a true representative of the movement.
And to my liberal colleagues: do any of you really think government personnel are justified if they “didn’t give [someone] the full force of what [they] could do” as a result of personal bias, as long as they learn from it after the fact? Government employees at the local, state, and federal levels who merely “did enough” to barely comply with the letter of the law were often rightfully denounced during the Civil Rights era, and yet now one is being exalted because she had an epiphany after the fact.
Following up on that question, do you think it’s OK for the government to abuse one of its employees by forcing them to resign over a decades-old controversy? Claim remarks were taken out of context all you like, the fact of the matter is a good chunk of the liberal establishment in this country threw Shirley Sherrod under the bus without any investigation or critical evaluation because they were worried about electoral repercussions. The people who supposedly believe in defending “the little man” instead smeared one for the sake of political expediency.
To the media: who told you electing Barack Obama was going to lead to some “post-racial” society where race was no longer a topic of controversy? I’ve read this in so many news stories it’s comical. Huge chunks of the country don’t pay enough attention to politics to even know who the President is, much less that he’s black, much less that his blackness is supposed to influence their opinions on race. Your collective obsession with the transformative power of Big Government blinds you to the fact the overwhelming majority of voters and taxpayers prefer being able to go about their daily business without government intrusion — and that as a result the government has a very limited ability to shape their beliefs. I’ve got a litany of problems with President Obama’s politics, but the fact he didn’t usher in an illusory “post-racial” society isn’t one of them.
And to everybody: what exactly have we gained from this manufactured controversy? Sure we’ve “gained” a bunch of people getting pissed off at a bunch of other people and vice versa. And we’ve “gained” a fresh lease on life for a lot of really worn out political analogies (e.g. that opposing the unchecked expansion of a clearly incompetent federal government is tantamount to racism). And we’ve “gained” a collective recognition of the obvious point that we still live in a society where race is a Big Deal™.
But beyond that, this entire pseudo-scandal has been a waste of everyone’s time… and only highlighted the abject foolishness that now passes for racial discussion.
That’s it from me — I promise promise promise you this isn’t going to become a political blog, and I’ll have something law-related to write about soon Thanks for enduring the rant, and have a great night!