Law: The Cuddly Profession

Here are two recent articles—or more accurately blurbs–of interest to prospective law students, sent my way by a current law student.  Survey: Most Pre-Law Students Confident re Own Prospects, But Dubious About Others reports on the results of a Kaplan Test Prep study of 330 pre-law students:  “52 percent are ‘very confident’ of finding a legal job after graduating from law school and passing the bar exam. However, only 16 percent are ‘very confident’ that most of their classmates will achieve the same success.”  Someone from Kaplan opines that the results show prospective students’ “optimism in an economic turnaround” and speaks to the respondents’ “self-assurance.”  A less-flattering interpretation is that  84 percent of pre-law students are “very confident” that most of their classmates will be losers? Imagine the survey respondents’ first day in law school.  In her welcoming remarks the Dean says “each of you look around–the two people to your immediate left and the two people to your immediate right–plus 1/5th of that next guy–believe that you will not find a legal job and/or will fail the bar.”  Disdain, arrogance, smug superiority, and self-delusion, all in the name of self-assurance–welcome to law school indeed.

The second blurb, Researcher Says Law Students Need to Learn to Read Like Lawyers, has little substance.  The comments, however, admittedly from a small population, reveal bitterness, disillusionment, cynicism, and frustration with the practice of law.  One reading is that these are the first article’s 84%, still looking down post-graduation on judges, courts, clerks, and other lawyers.  Another is that trial practice stinks.  Another is that there are a lot of unhappy lawyers.  Another is that lawyers like to bitch.  Another is (e) all of the above.

The Emperor Exposed

Every year many of our most accomplished students, with the highest GPAs and academic honors, take jobs in finance.  Jobs on Wall Street have been the college carousel’s gold ring.  They carried the most prestige and paid the highest salaries–two ways of saying the same thing.  Our students’ entry-level salaries were not high in Wall Street terms; they were merely a taste of what was to come.  It was accepted wisdom that people on Wall Street deserved obscene amounts of money because they worked long hours and were just plain smarter than everyone else.  They earned what the market said they were worth, and the market was always right.

Can anyone say that today with a straight face?  Wall Street’s best and brightest have wreaked economic carnage.  The arrogance, greed, short-sightedness, and blind failure of Wall Street’s leaders to understand simple tenets of risk managment created the most cataclysmic loss of wealth in history.  Everyone is suffering because of their mistakes.  The market has repudiated every justification for their outsized compensation.  Whatever financial genius they possessed individually, they were not smart.  A smart creature does not gorge itself until it dies.  A boss used to say “pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered.”  Wall Street was dominated by hogs, but we’re the ones being slaughtered.

How else can one respond to the $4 billion in bonuses paid by John A. Thain, former head of Merril Lynch, before it was acquired by Bank of America?  Merrill, recall, was on death’s door when Bank of America acquired it.  Another few days and it would joined Lehman Brothers in the financial afterlife.  It had failed.  Bank of America has received billions in taxpayer bailout money to absorb Merrill’s losses and its own losses.  Merrill paid these bonuses with our money.  As Merrill was sinking John Thain spent $1 million in office renovations, including two chairs for $87k and a $1,400 wastebasket.  This is one of the Wall Street geniuses who received hundreds of millions in compensation because that’s what you have to pay to get talent like his. 

Disgusting.  Incomprehensibly arrogant. Unfathomably stupid.  I second Mauren Dowd:  “How are these ruthless, careless ghouls who murdered the economy still walking around (not to mention that sociopathic sadist Bernie Madoff?) — and not as perps?  Bring on the shackles.  Let the show trials begin.”

As an icon of expertise, as an example of American genius, as a symbol of the wisdom of markets, Wall Street is dead.  It self-devoured.  It’s highly-compensated leaders deserve our scorn and contempt.