KABOOM! The University of Houston Is Paying Matthew McConaughey $135,000 To Give A Commencement Speech

head blowsThis isn’t just your usual, run-of-the-head Kaboom! where my brains go everywhere after a story makes my head explode. This is an angry Kaboom! where I kick my brain chunks around in disgust before the clean-up.

There is no possible excuse for this. The University is taxpayer funded, and if I lived in Houston, I’d be picketing graduation. The University announced in January that the 2013 Academy award-winner was speaking but avoided revealing his fee, until the persistent  the Houston Chronicle got the word on March 31. The paper said that the Celebrity Talent agency tried to block  the Chronicle’s Freedom of Information requests, arguing “that if UH tells the public how much it plans to pay McConaughey, a ‘reporter or someone’ might create ‘unfair negatives online.’ Yes, I think that was a reasonable assumption.

Scattered thoughts as I clean up the mess: Continue reading

Here’s Something Else For Unemployed Law Grads To Worry About

Damocles, Attorney at Law

Damocles, Attorney at Law

A legal ethics specialist with the D.C. Bar, speaking at the Bar’s mandatory ethics course, opined that a lawyer’s student loan debt could create an irresolvable conflict of interest preventing him or her from taking on certain cases, at least while complying with the ethics rules

I never thought about that before, but horrors!…he’s right! Continue reading

Ethics Hero: Thomas McGregor

"Just paying off my student loans..."

“Just paying off my student loans…”

One of the criteria for admission to the practice of law is proof of good character, and what is considered proof of bad character will keep even a stellar law grad out of the courtroom. Bad character can be inferred from many kinds of conduct—criminal convictions, lies under oath, and failing to meet financial obligations, among others. The latter has occasionally blocked an otherwise qualified young lawyer from entering the profession when unpaid debts get out of hand, and that means that the most prominent unpaid debts in recent headlines, student loans, can sometimes foil a legal career. New York law grad Robert Bowman, last I checked, was still trying to convince the New York Bar that being over $400,000 in debt on his student loans didn’t mean he wasn’t fit to practice law. So far, he hasn’t succeeded.

Maybe he should follow the lead of Thomas McGregor.  Continue reading

The Difference Between Unemployed Scientists and Unemployed Lawyers

A front page story in today’s Washington Post casts interesting perspective on an Ethics Alarms rumble that broke out here a couple of weeks ago. One of the many websites where underemployed, over-indebted law grads hang out to commiserate—sites with pathetic names like “butidideverythingrightorsoithought”—discovered a post from the days when people were taking Occupy Wall Street seriously, in which I chided a protester whose sign blamed his law school  for his failure to  find a job, without giving due weight to the fact that sitting in a park whining about his plight wasn’t doing him any good either. Suddenly Ethics Alarms experienced an avalanche of indignant and often personally insulting comments introducing me to the strange world of the JD conspiracy theorists, who maintain that law schools engaged in an intentional conspiracy or “scam” to gull naive college grads into believing that a law degree was a sure-thing ticket to Easy Street and six-figure starting salaries.

In the Post’s report, we learn that other advanced degree-holders, namely PhDs in scientific fields, are also unable to find work or toiling in fields unrelated to their degrees. The Post says:

“Traditional academic jobs are scarcer than ever. Once a primary career path, only 14 percent of those with a PhD in biology and the life sciences now land a coveted academic position within five years, according to a 2009 NSF survey. That figure has been steadily declining since the 1970s, said Paula Stephan, an economist at Georgia State University who studies the scientific workforce. The reason: The supply of scientists has grown far faster than the number of academic positions.”

Sounds a lot like the legal market to me! Continue reading

Comment of the Day on “Young, Gullible, Lazy, Unimaginative and Unbelievable: I Wonder Why This Lawyer Has Trouble Finding A Job?”

Back in October of 2011, I wrote a post in reaction to the sign reproduced left, held by an Occupy Wall Street protester who either was an unemployed law graduate or who plays one on TV.   Many are the ethical matters and controversies that have spilled on these pages since, and copious is the water that has flowed under the bridge, but because not very many people, comparatively speaking, read ethics websites in general and this one in particular, it took the better part of a year for that post to reach the laptop of  disgruntled law grad with access to a website for disgruntled law grads. Thus suddenly my name has been taken in vain in several fora where underemployed, student loan-burdened JDs hang out. Some, gratefully, have been kind enough to alert me with comments to Ethics Alarms, expressing their unhappiness with my insensitivity. This, the Comment of the Day, is such a post, by lawyer (presumably) Bobby Wilberger.

I must say at the outset that Bobby is lucky to have this posted, and I must say that because I don’t want another lawyer citing it as precedent. Bobby, who by definition if his post is to be taken seriously, had legal training, apparently didn’t absorb the part about following rules, being honest and truthful and reading documents relating to your work carefully. The posting requirements for Comments, clearly indicated at the top of this page, require a valid e-mail address. Bobby did not supply me with such an address, instead giving me a fake address with the clever suffix of “fake.com”.  This would pretty much ding Bobby if I were hiring, and is consistent with my over-all thesis that if you are an un- or underemployed law grad the first thing you need to do to get to the bottom of your problems is to look in the mirror.

I’ll have more to say after Bobby’s post. Here it is, the Comment of the Day, on Young, Gullible, Lazy, Unimaginative and Unbelievable: I Wonder Why This Lawyer Has Trouble Finding A Job?: Continue reading

Comment of the Day: “Is Buzz Bissenger Right? Should College Football Be Banned?….”

You’ve read the Comment of the Day….now read the book!

In his Comment of the Day, Michael elaborates on the ethics of college sports generally, going beyond the original topic of major football programs. The expenditures on student athletes is an ethics scandal all by itself, as Michael makes clear. When the headlines in the D.C. area were all about Maryland cutting eight varsity sports, I was stunned to learn 1) that the university spent a whopping $67, 390 per student athlete, and that this was the lowest amount in the the ACC (as opposed to Florida State’s $118, 813).  What possible justification could there be for this, when tuition costs are already crushingly high? Michael’s post makes the answer clear: none.

Here is Michael’s Comment of the Day, on Is Buzz Bissenger Right? Should College Football Be Banned? Is He KIDDING? Of Course It Should…:

“What is shocking is how big an impact this has on college student lives and how little anyone actually cares about learning and how little people actually care about the college students.

“If you have seen the news recently, there is a debate going on about college loans. There are also stories every few days about the high costs of college and skyrocketing college loan amounts that are the next big bubble to burst in the economy. It is obvious that this is going to end badly, with devastating consequences for the students, the education system, and the whole of US, but no one wants to actually do anything about it. Everyone wants to just stick their fingers in their ears and hope it will all turn out OK like that mortgage-backed-securities thing did. If you want to get to the bottom of the problem, you first need to start looking at where the money goes.

“How much does college actually cost?” Continue reading

The Tricky Ethics of Trading Sex For Tuition


It's not generally known, but Anna Nicole Smith initially hooked up with billionaire husband J. Herbert Marshall so he could pay her tuition at MIT.*

Seekingarrangement.com is undoubtedly an unethical website. The question is how unethical, and that is why I’ve taken longer than usual to write about it, and the social phenomenon it and other websites are fostering.

The site is per se unethical because it facilitates adultery, infidelity and improper workplace conduct, by definition and unequivocally, convicted by its own words:

“Rich and successful. Single or married, you have no time for games. You are looking to mentor or spoil someone special — perhaps a “personal secretary”? secret lover? student? or a mistress for an extra-marital affair?”

Based on this alone, Seekingarrangement.com is Ashley Madison (the adultery website) all over again. Case closed, no appeal. A website is unethical when it endorses, encourages, and assists in dishonest conduct that is guaranteed to cause harm to third parties. The “consenting adults” argument doesn’t work, and doesn’t apply, when the adults are consenting to something that violates commitments, agreements and promises made to other parties who don’t have the option of consenting.

Seekingarrangement.com, however, became the topic of much debate this month for another reason: its use by desperate students, aspiring students or indebted graduates to pay their college tuition. In this it is like the more specialized Seektuition.com, which is solely devoted to matching horny, rich, developmentally retarded and presumably repulsive older men who can’t find real relationships to hot, poor, young women willing to exchange their bodies and dignity to  “help sponsor” their “ dorm rent, books, or provide assistance for tuition.” (“Perhaps even take you shopping for those new clothes you want to impress your sorority sisters!”). The Huntington Post broke the story, telling the tales of both students who “hook up” with wealthy, older men over the internet using Seekingarrangement.com and similar sites, have sex with them, and get tuition money or tuition loan repayment funds in return, while the wealthy men gladly pay big bucks to have an evening of passion with a co-ed and some Viagra. Continue reading

Kelli Space’s Cyber-Begging? Not Unethical, Just Desperate

Northeastern alum Kelli Space, 23, owes $200,000 on her student loans, and has to pay federal student loan agency Sallie Mae $891 per month. That figure will nearly double in a year, and Kelli doesn’t make enough to pay off her debt. In desperation, she has launched a website called Two Hundred Thou, asking for donations. These aren’t charitable donations, now—you won’t get any deduction for giving to Kelli, any more than you will giving to the homeless guy on the street. This is begging, plain and simple.

Her pitch: Continue reading

Robert Bowman: Aspiring Lawyer, Ethics Martyr

Robert Bowman, according to a panel of New York judges, does not have the requisite good character to be admitted to the practice of law in New York. The reason for the panel’s finding is superficially logical: he owes nearly a half-million dollars in student loans. This is, says the panel, per se proof of irresponsible and negligent financial management, making him an unacceptable risk for any client.  The panel is almost certainly wrong. Continue reading