Congratulations, you’ve “gained admission” to a lower-tier law school! You might be wondering what the actual experience is going to be like. Well, if you’re one of those lucky souls who’s had the unique pleasure of matriculating at Trump University, you’re at a big advantage, because lower-tier law schools and Trump University are a whole lot alike. Let’s count the ways:
#1: It’s all about money. It probably didn’t take you long to ascertain Trump University was about money – and no, not about making you a millionaire, about making Donald Trump a millionaire a few more times over. Contrary to what you may have believed beforehand, when The Donald founded his “university,” he wasn’t on some idealistic mission to bring real estate investment expertise to the benighted masses. He wanted your money. He wanted it badly enough to shed all compunction with regard to tapping the limit on your credit card so he could squeeze out every drop. Emptying your wallet was the objective, plain and simple.
Guess what? It’s the same thing at a law school. The only difference is they have a leg up when it comes to wallet-emptying: Instead of bullying you into upping your credit card limit, they line you up at the bursar’s office with instructions to “sign on the dotted line.” You’ll hardly notice you’ve borrowed $200,000 in bankruptcy-proof loans at a high rate of interest – that is, until you’re condemned to financial ruin (which might be the least of your worries, once you wind up unemployed, or worse yet, stuck in a low-paying legal job with nightmarish hours and sadistic management. Trump stole your money – these guys steal your soul.)
Now that I’ve revealed these alarming details about law school, you’re probably mulling whether, given these drawbacks, it might be such a good idea to attend. Law schools worry about that, too – which brings us to another parallel between these two august institutions…
#2: As finding suckers gets harder, they have to switch up the con. At this point, even a graduate of Trump University would likely agree it’s hard to imagine anyone, no matter how gullible, signing up to attend The Orange One’s eponymous place of learning. With all those law suits, and former students and instructors coming out of the woodwork to state the obvious (surprise – it was a rip-off!) something will have to change if Trump’s going to find new dupes to defraud. In other words, it’s times like this when a savvy grifter switches up the con – and Trump might be sociopathic, but he’s plenty savvy when it comes to defrauding dupes. That’s probably why Trump is no longer merely a failed real estate developer cum reality tv curio… he’s the Republican nominee for President. There’s a method to his madness, and here it is: 40% of Americans have shown that they will vote for anyone or anything, no matter how dangerous, corrupt or absurd, who isn’t the other person running. All Trump needs to do is convince 0.001% of his diehard supporters to take the next logical leap and fork over their money for fake real estate classes. It’s not much of a stretch to see it working – and scam-wise, anything that works is nothing to sniff at.
“Switching up the con” has inspired the same sort of creativity from law schools, and they’ve risen to the occasion. Sure, just as some folks would vote for Trump even if he started shooting people on the street, there are also folks out there who want to go to law school so badly they won’t let anything stand in their way – not a weak undergraduate transcript, not a low LSAT score, and certainly not the fact that they have no particular interest in or talent for law (nor the near-certainty that obtaining the degree will leave them unemployed and saddled with lifelong debt.) If you’re one of those intrepid individuals, I salute you. You go!
Alas, there simply aren’t enough prime grade chumps to go around – the schools gobble up every one they can find with relish, but that only leaves them hungry for more, more, more students (and tuition checks) to line their pockets.
So…creative solutions. The first tactic is an oldie but a goodie: cut the price. Bottom rung schools hand out “scholarships” (i.e., discounts) like candy, and it’s no secret (at least in law school administrator circles) that the average law student at most of these schools pays roughly 50% of the “official” tuition (which is equivalent to a “manufacturer’s suggested retail price” in the sense that anyone who knows better never pays it.) Who does pay full price? The answer is amazing – honestly, you can’t make this stuff up.
The answer is foreigners. Yeah, foreigners attending American law schools. And no, I don’t mean foreign attorneys picking up expensive LLM’s so they can come here and work for American firms – that delicious stream of extra tuition income has been available to a few of the more prestigious law schools for years, but it’s been exploited at this point, fracked out to the last drop.
No, the latest strategy is to offer useless (or, at least, decorative) degrees to foreign kids who aren’t lawyers and might not speak good English.
Like all effective scams, this one has its own bizarre logic. Let’s say you’re from, oh, China – we’ll make it Chengdu, since I have friends from Chengdu and I love pandas and spicy food. So you’re from Chengdu and you want to hang out in the USA. The problem is you need a visa. And the easiest visa to get if you’re a foreigner in your 20’s who wants to hang out in America for fun is the one you pay for outright: a student visa.
Thus the USA’s maze of out-dated immigration policies have created an industry based on more-or-less fake schools selling more-or-less fake degrees to kids who need a real visa to stay in the country for a few years so they can have fun, practice their English and maybe meet a boy- or girlfriend.
If that describes you, all you need to do is find some obscure school that won’t work you very hard and is willing to sell you a degree that sounds legit, at least to your folks back home in Chengdu (who probably don’t know a lot about US degrees in higher education.) So how about a law degree? Sounds impressive. Or at least, sounds impressive-sounding (just like “Trump University” sounds impressive-sounding compared to “Trump College” even if none of it means anything.)
You may not have heard of these degrees (since the schools are still concocting them) but chances are you have the money, since if Papa in Chengdu didn’t own a styrofoam plant you wouldn’t be here partying it up on campus, you’d be somewhere (here or China or elsewhere) toiling for paltry wages. Having the money is all that’s required for a bunch of law schools to be very happy to grant you your very own recently-contrived degree, such as a “masters of jurisprudence” (“M. Jur.”) or a “Masters of Legal Studies” (“MLS”), that you can hang on your wall at home in Chengdu to the admiring ooo’s and ahh’s of delighted relatives. You and I both know they won’t be asking questions about what the degree is for – the point is, you got a visa while you were “studying” in the USA and now you have something aesthetically appealing to hang on the wall, and it’s more impressive (or at least, more novel) than the usual certificate in “teaching English” (if equally useless.)
For the law schools, it’s all gravy. They could care less how many kids are sitting in a giant auditorium listening to a contracts lecture – the more the merrier, if someone’s paying for it. It’s about money.
As for what we laughingly refer to as “the academic requirements” – as in, what will you actually study in law school? Here’s yet another parallel with Trump U, because…
#3: The teaching itself is a joke. As you probably realized at some juncture during your tenure in its storied halls, Trump University hired unqualified pitchmen as “faculty,” then gave them plagiarized materials – xeroxes from old real estate texts or whatever – from which to teach. It doesn’t cost much to hire sales reptiles to make up nonsense based on xeroxes, and you needn’t bother bringing in Mr. Trump himself – tell the students they’ll get a photo with him, then pull the ol’ switcheroo and whip out a cardboard cutout. If you stone face it, they’ll be too embarrassed to complain. Boom. Done.
Unsurprisingly, law schools do pretty much the same thing. You don’t need real lawyers who do actual work to teach law students – that would only scare them away from the profession. It’s cheaper to do it yourself – the doddering, tenured fuddy-duddies who pocket a half million dollar salary for six hours work each week can teach the same tired courses in Contracts and Torts that they’ve taught since 1971 (and they can utilize old case books from generations past, too, merely updated to “new editions” so the school bookstore can charge top dollar.) Or the school can hire “adjuncts” (an industry term for minimum wage peons.)
The final parallel between Trump U and law school is a bit depressing, but essential to understanding the entire scheme…
#4: They get away with it. Trump is getting away with it. He might not wind up President – but I’m not sure he ever wanted to be President. Trump wants money (it’s all about money.) And he’s making money. Sure, he’s ripping people off, but that’s one way to make money.
The law schools? Same thing. They’re making money – ripping people off. They might not be making the obscene profits that were pouring in prior to a certain percentage of the kids waking up and smelling the coffee. But there’s a sucker born every minute – that’ll never change – and a smart grifter can still locate a gull. If “legal education” can be spun into a hustle to lighten some mark’s wallet, then rest assured, someone’s tackling the challenge as I type these words.
The trick is to stay away from sociopaths offering to take your money in return for shiny promises, whether they’re Presidential candidates with tiny hands or sincere-looking “legal educators.” Either option guarantees an identical outcome: The money will disappear, and so will they – and you’ll be left blinking in the sunlight, high and dry.
This piece is part of a series of columns presented by The People’s Therapist in cooperation with AboveTheLaw.com. My thanks to ATL for their help with the creation of this series.
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