Warning From Great Britain: The “Lawscam” Excuse Is Coming To Colleges

It was all the fault of imperial Indian history....

It was all the fault of imperial Indian history….

The controversy died down a bit in 2016, but it is still out there: unemployed young lawyers are still blaming their law schools for the fact that their degrees didn’t deliver riches and success in a competitive field. When a ballyhooed lawsuit by one such lawyer failed last April, it briefly muted the howling, but the central misconception is still virulent. From the Ethics Alarms post about that law suit:

The rejection of Alaburda’s law suit sends a message that young lawyers need to hear, and heed. If they thought a law degree was going to guarantee their success, they have been tragically confused by the culture’s hucksters and politicians, not the law schools.  For too long, education has been sold as the key to income and jobs, when it is nothing but a process designed to make more competent, able, creative and responsible human beings. By itself, a degree proves nothing. It only signifies that its owner has had access to useful knowledge and the chance to develop useful skills. It is up to graduates to use that knowledge and those skills to make a life for themselves. If they fail to achieve their goals, they cannot blame the law school because they perceived a promise that was never made.

One failed suit, however, couldn’t undo the destructive false message society and its leaders have been issuing for decades: “the purpose of earning a diploma is to get a good job.” As more and more young men and women are steered into college and a college degree becomes symbolic of nothing, there will be more law suits by college graduates like the one currently being fought in Great Britain, where Faiz Siddiqui, an Oxford graduate, is suing his alma mater for not giving him a first-class degree 16 years ago. (In British universities, graduating with a “first class degree” is roughly similar to graduating “with honors” in an American college. Based on a student’s grades, Oxford gives out three classes of degrees, first-class being the highest.)

Siddiqui is now 38 years old, angry and disillusioned. In his suit, he alleges that his life and career were stunted because he didn’t earn “a first,” as the degree is called, when he  studied modern history at Brasenose College and graduated from Oxford University in June 2000. “Negligent teaching” in a course on Indian imperial history, he says, pulled down his overall grade and ruined his life. Now he’s asking for a million British pounds in damages for his lack of lifetime earnings in a legal action against the Oxford chancellor, masters and scholars. His barrister, Roger Mallalieu, also claims that Oxford is responsible for Siddiqui’s insomnia and depression.

Apparently the history module was less than optimum while Siddiqui was a student, because half of the teaching staff responsible for Asian history were on sabbatical.  Mallalieu told the British high court that the inferior teaching resulted in his client’s lesser grade and thus “denied him the chance of becoming a high-flying commercial barrister.”

The obvious hooey of this suit is that it is the consequentialism complaint of the century, making the self-ratifying argument that if a student fails at his career objectives, his or her education is at fault, but if he or she succeeds, then everything must have been fine. It took this guy sixteen years to figure out that he wasn’t getting the brass ring he wanted, so rather than be accountable for his own choices and performance, it’s all Oxford’s fault.

Ella Whelan at Spiked perfectly sums up what’s wrong with this, and though she is speaking of British society, her words are equally forceful as the apply to ours, and the similar law suits to come in the States. She writes in part…

This is absurd. By the same logic I could sue my primary school, St Joan of Arc, for removing the monkey bars when I was in Year Three, thus thwarting my potential as a gymnast. I could take my GCSE teacher to court for telling me I couldn’t sew straight and in the process killing my dreams of being a designer.

[ An aside: A less extreme analogy occurred to me while reading about the suit, for my college studies were seriously hampered by constant student unrest on campus that led to days of class cancellations in two of my four years. It never occurred to me to blame my relative lack of fame and fortune on this, but if Siddiqui succeeds, I may take a shot. We’re talking about a bit longer than 16 years, but…]

Siddiqui seems incapable of accepting that it was most likely his own failings as a student, or perhaps his choices as an adult, that prevented him from getting his dream job….A little self-awareness would serve Siddiqui better than a court case against Oxford.

…[T]his is the logical outcome of the commercialisation of education. When university is presented as little more than a stepping stone to a career and the thing that keeps the British economy going – that is, in narrow economic terms – it is hardly surprising that, like customers, students ask for money back when they don’t get the product they wanted…Increasingly, students are encouraged to see education as something to put on their CVs….It’s rare and refreshing to find a student spending long hours in the library simply because they love learning rather than viewing their degree as a ticket to a corner desk at Goldman Sachs…

We should encourage people to go to university, not as the default step between school and working life, but as a way of broadening their minds, challenging their preconceived opinions, and learning new things about a subject they’re passionate about. Yes, if you do well, it might give you an advantage in certain areas of employment, but this shouldn’t be the reason for university; making it the reason is robbing university life of its purpose.

Read her whole article, please. What Whelan describes in Great Britain is also  is one of the primary forces making American education worthless and American students stupid. If the creator of Trump University is able to recognize the seriousness of the problem and do anything substantive to address it, I will be very, very pleased.

(And even more surprised.)


Pointer: Pennagain



41 thoughts on “Warning From Great Britain: The “Lawscam” Excuse Is Coming To Colleges

  1. What Whelan describes in Great Britain is also is one of the primary forces making American education worthless and American students stupid. If the creator of Trump University is able to recognize the seriousness of the problem and do anything substantive to address it, I will be very, very pleased.

    Sadly, I suspect Trump University offered a superior education than many colleges.

  2. Reminds me of Casey Stengel allegedly saying, “I managed good, but they played bad.” But I guess it’s the obverse: “I studied good but they taught bad.”

    What about the lawyer bringing the case? Ethical?

  3. If I sold you something for $100,000 that was completely useless and didn’t do any of the things I promised it would do you would call it fraud, but in America we call it a degree.

    Saying that college is “about the experience” after a kid complains his degree isn’t opening doors is really dishonest after years and years of saying “You need to go to college and get a degree or you’ll be flipping burgers for the rest of your life!”

    Have you ever read this:


        • Yeah, my comment was kind of flippant. Sorry about that. It actually was meant to be a dig at the law schools more than the students, because schools should have ways to test whether people are able to see causal relationships like that. I’m actually incensed at primary and secondary education for not teaching the meta-skills people need to be responsible adults (e.g. analysis, synthesis, organization, operation). Because people lack those meta-skills, they see education as a kind of pipeline that spits people out into jobs which they can perform mechanically, without ever having to learn new paradigms.

          I can’t very well blame people for lacking the skills to evaluate whether they would benefit from a given college degree when I’m already blaming schools for not only not teaching those skills, but actively giving people the idea that school is a mechanical process. If you fail, it’s your fault for not coming pre-loaded with the right paradigms for the situation, and if you do well then you will bask in splendor all the days of your life, and working hard is sufficient for success, so if you fail, it must be a character flaw. People who fail in school internalize their failures, so we get poverty and crime. People who succeed internalize their success (discounting impostor syndrome), which isn’t good either, especially when they don’t succeed in real life. They don’t know where things went wrong, but they do know who taught them the skills that didn’t work and said they were ready.

          • No worries. This post is intelligent on so many levels; I will need to read it in more detail tomorrow. Thank you for thinking through these things so carefully. The world needs more people like you (I know that sounds corny, but it’s getting late for me, I need to get some sleep, and this sort of post gives me great hope). At the very least it’s something to think about.

          • I agree that any kid who feels entitled to a job or a degree is foolish. But it’s dishonest to ignore the mammoth cultural machine which inexorably pushes kids to this conclusion while blaming them for falling victim to it.

            Are you aware that schools put parents in seminars during orientation where they cautioned to avoid questioning their child’s choice of major? They are told their kids are “adults” now and parents have no right to tell them what to do anymore (the schools reserve that right for themselves of course).

            Read the Last Psychiatrist. As he puts it, the question isn’t why someone would spend six figures earning a PhD in medieval history, but what kind of society would let them think that was a good idea in the first place.

  4. “Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, as one of the great sages of our time has said, ‘No such thing bad student. Only bad teacher.'”

  5. I have counseled a dozen or more students over the years who were debating whether or not to go to law school. The fact is that the law firm model has drastically changed due to technology. A large law firm needs a fraction of employees to do the job then they did even 10 years ago, yet law school graduations greatly exceed capacity in this industry. So I think it is necessary for young men and women to ask themselves: 1) what they are looking for out of law school; and 2) will they require loans. If the answer is: 1) a great paying job; and 2) yes — then they should not go. Plain and simple. Alternatively, if they are looking to broaden their skill set generally and do not mind paying back their loans over the next 20-30 years, then they should go for it. Also, what plays into this is where do they want to work. There are certain regional markets where it makes far more sense to go to a local lower tiered school than a Georgetown, Stanford, Chicago, etc., and there are other markets (like DC) where you will not get a job unless you went to a great school or were at the absolute top of your class at your lower ranked school.

    The problem is that most kids do not receive this counseling — and they should. Law schools are not great at advertising the realities that come with their degrees and fudge their numbers of full-time employment following graduation. For example, tending bar counts as full-time employment — that’s fraudulent in my opinion.

    • This. Absolutely.

      Law schools are like government. They love to take people’s money, but they also have no idea as to what is going on in the market and can do little more than promise that they will make things better.

      • Law schools saw their value inflated when it became obvious that college didn’t educate the young any more. A legal education is far more rigorous and far more meaningful than college, unless in the latter a student is motivated to make the most of it. Most are not. It’s a competitive field, that’s all. Anyone who doesn’t know this going in is a fool. Law schools don’t deceive anyone on this point. Anyone who checks salaries and employment figures to decide whether to get a legal education isn’t cut out to be a lawyer. Is it something you want to do? Have passion for? Understand the challenges and the field’s essential function in a free society? If not, go to business school.

        • “Law schools don’t deceive anyone on this point”

          God I wish you weren’t serous but I know you are. People should pursue legal training out of some greater “passion” for this joke of a profession? Trying to find an area of the economy with available jobs makes absolute, logical sense for anyone who cares about his or herself or their family. This is how the economy remains fluid and jobs get filled. There is no logic in charging $200K for a “doctorate” to “practice” a “profession” that less and less people need. What kind of trust fund did you inherit that exempt you from actually having to work for a living?

          A few years back I watched you admit that law schools are quick to fudge numbers as needed. Yet somehow on this particular issue they just can’t be wrong and are selling wonderful, useful degrees, to those that really know how to use them?

          • “Trying to find an area of the economy with available jobs makes absolute, logical sense for anyone who cares about his or herself or their family.’ Professions aren’t “jobs.” Is that where you are confused? Nor are professions supposed to be businesses. A profession is a disciplined group of individuals who adhere to ethical standards, possessing special knowledge and skills in a widely recognized body of learning derived from research, education and training at a high level, and is dedicated to serving the public and society at personal sacrifice if necessary. The clergy, the law, medicine. Yes, they are corrupted by greed.

            Of course the current tuitions are unsustainable and wrong. Never said they weren’t. That is a completely separate issue. I wouldn’t have gone to law school at current prices, no matter what my law school claimed was the average income or employment figures. But if I did, I wouldn’t blame the law school later.

            • But this is a fantasy, in my opinion. Work is work and trying to pretend there is something special about doctors, lawyers, etc. versus other occupations is a mistake. We’re already seeing technology completely undermine these “professions,” and many of these professionals simply have no idea what to do. It’s a very interesting time to live in.

              I certainly don’t think that law schools are entirely to blame, but it’s not a completely separate issue.These schools have the benefit of taxpayer-guaranteed student loans with no cap, and non-dischargeable student loans to support their ventures. Of course that sort of situation is going to lead to false advertisements and empty promises. The situation needs to be corrected on both ends.

              Good night, Jack.

              • “These schools have the benefit of taxpayer-guaranteed student loans with no cap, and non-dischargeable student loans to support their ventures.”

                Well, yes: consumers demanded them, politicians enabled them, and colleges and law schools kept ratcheted up the price, since the market had been tampered with.The idea was to open up the professions to all economic classes. Oops. Obviously, this took the professional option out of the profession, if you were getting the degree on borrowed money.

  6. As much as I would like to see colleges held to a higher standard of customer service and product quality, this lawsuit seems nuts. It’s like buying a new car, driving it for 150,000 miles, and only then suing the manufacturer because it wasn’t everything they said it was in the brochures.

    But Whelan’s complaint about students going to college to get a job instead of because they “love learning” is a little loopy. It’s a nice vision — “broadening their minds, challenging their preconceived opinions” — but there are a lot of jobs where you just plain need a college education. Our modern world is complicated, and if you want to learn electrical engineering or medical informatics or agricultural chemistry, you’re going to need to spend time in a classroom. And if you don’t learn because they do a poor job, you should have some form of redress.

    • Except that the emphasis on the degree instead of the eduaction the degree is supposed to signify warps the process, the student’s objectives and the real value, as opposed to the symbolic value, of a college education. OK, there are jobs you can’t get without a college education, even though those educations are, in fact, worthless and leave graduates with little or nothing non graduates can’t acquire easily. If college isn’t educating, then it’s ridiculous to say its a requirement, and especially ridiculous to pay a fortune for it. Whelen is right in the sense that a degree that is detached from the pure intrinsic value of learning for learning’s sake and self-improvement without financial motives is a sham. This is why cheating and fake credentials are epidemic, why major colleges don’t feel they have to teach Western civilization, and why the average graduate can’t give the dates of WW I, explain who Clarence Darrow was or know that Jane Fonda was a political activist and why.

      • Well my old friend, it’s good to see that you are again touching on an important topic that you have tried to avoid for the last half decade. Sure, “it is still out there: unemployed young lawyers are still blaming their law schools for the fact that their degrees didn’t deliver riches and success in a competitive field.” Meanwhile a law school is shutting its doors because it simply can’t justify its existence, despite its claims for the last five years that its graduates were going to go on and do all wonderful sorts of things for the world with their magical, versatile degrees.

        No one needs a law degree for anything practical. These “whiny” graduates don’t want to be rich (as you have continuously asserted), they want to be employable and were falsely told that a law degree would help them get to that position. Good riddance to this garbage profession and these tax-payer funded grad school scams.

        • Now that’s a rational conclusion!
          Of course, it is undeniable that many seek the professions because they promise high salaries. My classmates talked about this constantly: it was their primary concern: no great grades, no journals, no big time firm jobs and the huge salaries they ensured. I, I confess, told them they were misguided, and that the value of a law degree was the precision of thought it required to get it, and the fact that it signified in and outside the law that the recipient was trained and capable of problem solving and analysis, and credentialed for many jobs and careers. And in my case, that was exactly what I discovered.

          If one did not go to law school out of great interest and love of the law, then the motive was mistaken, and failure flowed from that.

          • “Now that’s a rational conclusion!”

            Which conclusion are you referring to? I had almost forgotten how irritating you are.

            A lot of us sought the profession because we wanted to work for a living. Some strove for high salaries, others thought they’d engage in some sort of public service. All spent three years earning a degree that means virtually nothing in the modern economy (though I understand that you probably know little about that). I’ve now worked for four companies that simply don’t want juris “doctors” and their “problem solving and analysis” skills, whatever those are. This JD nonsense is basically a flagship for the higher education scam plaguing our country.

            Also, i hope you and yours are well, even if you still piss me off.

            • Good riddance to this garbage profession and these tax-payer funded grad school scams.
              …was the last line of your comment. “Now that’s a rational conclusion!” was the beginning of mine. This is a conversation, no? Should have been clear, and also obvious, since saying “good riddance” to the legal profession is like saying “good riddance” to shoes.

              • Yes, it’s a conversation. But every time we talk I have to deal with your insufferable, internet ego. I wish we could just grab a beer or two and discuss these things further.

                  • Your son’s comment a few years back. He said you are a wonderful guy and yet are a jackass online. Personally, I deal with some complex desire to give you a hug, while also wondering how you aren’t slapped in the face on a daily basis. But hat’s just me. People get irritated with me, too.

                    I’ll be in the DC area in a couple of months. Are you still there? I’ll shoot you an email if you’re interested in grabbing a drink and discussing these things further. Again, I hope you are well.

  7. “1. Why wouldn’t I be interested?
    2. My son said that? I didn’t think he even read what I put online!
    3. I’m very well, thanks.”

    For whatever reason I can’t reply directly to the above comment. To answer:

    1. Awesome
    2. I can probably find the blog if you’re interested, even if it’s been a few years. You baby boomers are much more trackable online than you understand. We youngsters know what our parents are doing.
    3. Very glad to hear it.

    Have a great night. I seriously need to get some rest.

  8. I loved my undergraduate experience. Law school was disappointing. Just a trade school Rote memory more valuable in law school and practicing law than any critical or creative thinking.

  9. I can only discuss my own experience.

    While I have done very well in law school. (Currently top 15% at the end of my fifth semester). I have had difficulty with the finding work part of law school, which is, frankly, terrifying especially with a new little one in the home. And I have worked very thoroughly at applying for jobs and following up on opportunities, so it’s not as if I’m not trying. I suppose I could be doing something obnoxious at interviews that I’m not aware of, but, thus far, i have been unable to determine what is holding me back. If finding a job weren’t a concern, I think I would have considered law school the best time of my life. I was good at it, I enjoyed the work, and I even like exams.

    The one thing I have going for me that many don’t have is I absolutely refused to pay tuition for law school. I went to the best law school that would let me go for free. (I still have loans because I have to eat and my wife is not a professional-but they are closer to 70K than 200K-and that counts Undergraduate loans too).

    I’ve been told by my career services office that it is unlikely that I will be unemployed by the time I graduate due to my credentials, but it is difficult to gauge just how much I should trust that office. I think law school is an incredibly unsafe bet, and my experience with the scamblog movement is that they were mostly trying to make that argument. It’s clearly NOT the case that those who don’t end up having lucrative careers are lazy or stupid. My sister (graduated in 2011) has a friend who has struggled following law school, and she was the head editor of the Law Review. Sometimes, you just roll snake eyes.

    Currently, I am pretty frustrated with the lack of opportunities, myself. However, I recognize that little of that is the fault of the law schools. For instance, I LOVED my first summer legal job with the disAbility Law Center of Virginia and would be perfectly happy pursuing that kind of work. However, you can’t even get hired for that kind of work until you pass the bar. But that’s a major financial burden for my family. I don’t understand why we don’t allow students to take the bar exam at the end of the second year. Then, talented students could be more able to apply to fields where they are really needed.

    Finally, there’s also, in my opinion, a terrifying lack of clarity and common sense when it comes to legal hiring. I got hired at a public defender’s office my second summer because the person who interviewed me worked with some of the same individuals I did when I was working with the intellectually disabled in upstate New York. That’s a HORRIBLE reason to hire someone, and yet that’s how legal hiring gets done. Note: I had never taken a criminal procedure course, and my criminal law grade was just average (B+). While I appreciated the work, I somehow doubt I was the best candidate for the job, and am certain now that I’ve done the job that I was not the best candidate for the office’s clients. (I have little patience with law breakers-but at the time I honestly thought that the fact that I liked disability work meant that public defense would be logical to try).

    Also, many of my friends who are capable and competent individuals who I would trust to take on a client’s case are still looking for work. Meanwhile, I have acquaintences who have jobs lined up who I wouldn’t pay to wipe my ass if someone cut off both my arms. Maybe that’s just a function of how the game works, but it seems both unfair to students who are trying to make their lives better for their families and bad for the people who are supposed to be served by the justice system.

    I also think the claim that law school is one of the most versatile degrees is dubious at best. That was probably true a generation ago because a law degree proved you were smart. Similarly, two generations ago an undergraduate degree meant you were smart. Neither is true now. Trust me, there are dumb people at law school. And if there are dumb people at law school, you’re not going to get a job just because you attended law school. You’ll have to show your smart in some other way.(Grades, I think, help for this).

    Law schools, in my opinion, need to start serving something other than themselves. If you don’t want it to be the students, I can see that, but it should at least be the eventual clients of the legal system. Right now, there’s basically no one being denied a legal education. That means any moron can go to law school. What happens when those morons start taking on real cases? Further, law schools will arbitrarily pass individuals who make it exceedingly clear that they will be unable to pass the bar. I don’t see how that can be considered ethical. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, any argument that the students should be able to understand the risks for themselves is severely undercut by the system that is currently in place. Prospective students at third and fourth tier law schools are incapable of using logic to make decisions. We know that because they scored so low on the LSATs that they have to go to a third or fourth tier law school. If law school is going to be the only way to get into the field of law, it should at least do it’s job as a gatekeeper.

    Finally, I’m not sure how you can think that inflated statistics isn’t a lie-perhaps I need some clarity on the issue. If you bought a car because the manufacturer of a car said “99% of people live who have accidents in this car”, but in actuality it was only 50% of the people who had accidents who lived, it seems fairly obvious that you should be able to get your money back for that car if you discover that the original number was incorrect. I’m not sure how law school is sufficiently different from this example. It makes no difference if that is not the reason you SHOULD have bought the car. All that matters is that’s the reason you DID buy the car.

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