Changes in Attitudes, Changes in Latitudes

This will probably get me in trouble, but I wanted to respond to one of the comments to UM Promises to Be Good About Something, which actually seems to be responding to something I said in Class Warfare. There I wrote,

I’d expect that most of the faculty see students as junior versions of themselves and their friends. After all, we were (almost) all law students once. What the current fracas reveals is that many students not only don’t see the faculty as senior versions of themselves, but seem quite unaware that even when it doesn’t feel their pain, the faculty wants them to learn, and to go out into the world prepared to do good and to do well.

The commentator disagreed,

Your students see you and your colleagues as the Havard/Stanford/Yale elites that you and they are. When a Miami student looks around, they do not see senior versions of themselves because you are not that. Miami students do not see themselves as attorneys in the top DC/NY law firms, as federal clerks (and certainly not federal judges), as US/DOJ attorneys, and certainly not as law professors. How are you a senior version of the students that you teach? Almost none of them will be a tenured professor at a law school. You know that.

To which a former student replied, “Shoot higher…people in other UM Law classes certainly saw themselves in those roles…and are currently in those roles.”

I think that’s absolutely the right answer, and that the first commentator has let his reverse elitism get the better of him.

It’s true that the odds of getting a teaching job coming from UM are low compared to a top 10 law school, although it has been done. But most of the students in any law school other than Yale, which is both small and a bit of teacher factory, are not going to be professors either, so this is hardly unusual. (If you want to teach, write publishable stuff: get on a law journal, publish a note and also write something else for publication in a non-UM journal — something a number of my students have done while in law school. After graduation, work a bit, then get a pre-teaching fellowship from one of the schools that offer them. It can be done.)

OK. Here’s where I get myself in trouble:

As I see it, the way in which the majority of UM students differ most from the majority of Yale students is that Yale students feel empowered and UM students by and large do not. While this feeling obviously has some empirical validity (law is a credential-conscious profession; a top-5 degree has greater market value, pretty much everyone at Yale will get a nice job if they want it), the empirical element is nowhere as great as UM students think, especially if we leave out the bottom 10% or so of the UM class, the people who do face some serious employment obstacles after they graduate — if they even pass the bar. So what really has the biggest effect on the rest is the self-fulfilling aspect of this prophecy: because UM students don’t try lots and lots of stuff — like apply for clerkships — they don’t get lots of stuff.

Rejection is a part of life, even a Yalie’s life; undoubtedly coming from UM sharpens the odds (although less than you might think — many employers, especially the feds, want geographic diversity; firms and others have become dubious of academic monoculture): the really big difference is the extent to which people will take charge of their own futures, think big, take risks, do unconventional things, and take large efforts to apply for many things and risk tons of rejection, to get what they want.

The top N% of our class would fit right in at Yale. I’m not sure what N is, exactly: more than 5 less than 15, I’d guess. The next batch would stand out less for lack of brains than lack of … I don’t know quite what to call it … it’s not exactly entrepenurialism, nor willingness to work, nor thinking out of the box, but a sort of imaginative and ambitious self-starting. Maybe it’s just “attitude”.

I agree that not everyone at UM is going to have a big national career. But some will; and many, many will end up holding key positions in this state — an increasingly important state in the life of this nation. That’s not to be sneered at. You may also be surprised to learn that of my classmates at Yale, not all are doing the big firm thing either, and many of those that did at first bailed out because they hated it. When last heard from, at least one classmate was home schooling her kids.

So, yes, UM students do look sort of familiar in many ways. Other than how they dress in February, anyway.

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19 Responses to Changes in Attitudes, Changes in Latitudes

  1. Ann Bartow says:

    I have sort of an aside comment, which is that I’d like to see more law profs from a wider range of schools. Yale produces some great law profs, but too many, and it’ s all too clique-y. I’ve had a couple of really brilliant students at South Carolina who would make better law profs than some of the Yalies, not just because they are smarter, but also because they have a different set of life experiences to offer. You know, that diversity thing! Anyway, hope the strike situation comes to a just resolution promptly.

  2. UF Law alum says:

    I’d also point out that UF has had more than its share of ABA presidents, federal clerks, etc., and it’s certainly no more prestigious than Miami. And I’m personally acquainted with Miami and UF grads who have made it to the US Atty’s office and other DOJ posts. So I think attitude has a huge amount to do with it.

  3. hugh says:

    Ann is correct, I think. But it’s not an “aside” comment, imho. It’s a direct cause of the attitude of the complaining student. When about half of all new tenure-track profs come from just 6 schools, it takes on the air of a closed system. Then you have to toss in all the “gaming” that law schools and law school applicants do. It’s fostered a healthy dose of cynicism about law schools.

    Take, for example, a student in the middle of the class at a lower second tier school, whose prof was YLS, with clerking at the USDC and CoA, coupled with two years practice at an elite, famous non-profit. There’s a real possibility of the sort of distance that student complained of. I’m not justifying those feelings, just making a prediction.

  4. Mark says:

    I want to be careful not to impute anything to the specific commentator’s views on the strike. But I must say this:

    The idea that a UM law student can label and dismiss a UM law professor and Yale grad as “elite” in the context of an effort to free workers from the shackles of a sub-poverty wage is absurd.

    What percentage of Americans earn professional or doctorate degrees? One percent? How many Americans get the opportunity to earn a law degree from a rich private university nestled into an exclusive South Florida neighborhood? News flash: In the grand scheme, we’re all elites.

    True, some law school grads nationwide will become professors; others will work at DOJ after coveted clerkships. Still others will become quality attorneys working on real cases that will form the basis of a rich and rewarding career, even without generating headlines. Drawing a line in the sand and labeling the Yale grad professors as elite is an artificial and unnecessary distinction.

    That UM law students run around yelling “elitism!” at professors is proof of just how detached the anti-strike faction is from reality.

  5. rsojo says:


    Well said. The thought of a UM student calling his/her law prof. “elite” is like the pot calling the kettle black. Echoing the toughts of another commentator, if anything makes the iveyes and yalies what they are today, is their willingness to work harder, take a chance, take a stand, and not sit there and sulk when things dont break their way or when their comfort zone is challenged. These are character traits of people that I would consider anything but “elite.”

  6. Marc R. says:

    As a former UM student, I can attest to the fact that even if you are a Dean’s Merit Scholarship recipient, top 15% at UM, editor experience on one of the school’s law review, and a top performer in the 1L moot court competition, you will be lucky to get more than 10 interviews for OCI and will not get any interviews with the Southern Dist Ct for FL nor with any COA judge. During a callback interview with a “prestigious” Vault 50 firm in South Florida I was told by the managing partner that my “chances are lowered by the fact that you [I] could have challenged yourself deeper by attending elsewhere.”

    Maybe I will make more money than certain HYS graduates, but I will never get a job at, say Wilmer, unless my dad was highly connected.

    I’m not making a moral judgment here and saying that I should have gone to a better ranked school. But to say that n% at UM is equivalent to the middle of the class at YLS, or even to the bottom of the class, is a patently false statement.

  7. anon says:

    To rsojo:
    The Yalies have a Willingness to work harder? Are you kidding me? Most of those kids went to private high schools whose parents paid for their $1000 SAT prep classes, private counselors, private tutors and lived in a safe McMansion in Suburbia. Their lives are set up for them! I would counter that a kid who went to a public high school in New Orleans East, raised by a single parent, managed to graduate while avoiding being jumped every day after school, and eeked his way into a low-ranked public university with a 990 SAT and managed to get into a Tier 3 law school had to work much harder then your privileged Yalies. How are the numerous UVA law students that I know who got 178s on the LSATs without studying demonstrate a willingness to work? Please.

  8. Joe says:

    As a conservative 3L at UM law, I can speak first-hand about the “animus” a lot students have towards the faculty. I haven’t taken a poll, but I would venture to guess that at least 35-40% of the students are conservative, voted for Bush, and feel that Rehnquist and Scalia’s opinions are by and large more correct than William Brennan’s or Thurgood Marshall’s.

    In my 3 years here, i’ve had exactly 3 professors who I would expect hold similar views, there are a handful of professors whose views I have no idea about, but the overwhelming majority of professors espouse views diametrically opposed to what I believe. This does not bother me.

    However, I am bothered by professors who espouse their views in such a way as to thoroughly discredit the motives and character of those who disagree. To give a few examples, I have had one professor call Rehnquist a racist and a sexist, another (the author of this blog incidentally) question the humanity of George W. Bush, and heard of another with a book by Al Franken among the course’s required “texts.”

    While I didn’t attend the town hall meeting, I could guess that many of the students who were “outraged” by classes being moved off campus might be conservative in nature. These students, after years of seeing many professors’ biases first-hand, and not lock, stock and barrel with BIG LABOR, will naturally be more skeptical of the allegations levied against UNICCO.

    Finally, the claim that we should see Professors as “senior versions of ourselves” might be buttressed if more than 2 professors ever attended such events as “Beer at the Rat” and the Football tailgates. The shock these professors proclaim to have at students who dont feel this way only demonstrates how disconnected they are with a large portion of the student body.

  9. Lindsay says:

    While we are discussing controversial subjects pertaining to the UM student body, there is another factor at play at UM that merits mention — namely, the “transfer” factor. A disproportionate number of students seem to enter their first year at UM with the goal of doing well so that they can transfer to a different, better-ranked school. After first semester grades are released, the students who do well inevitably begin talking about all of the higher-ranked schools they are applying to as transfer students. The students who don’t do as well speak of their disappointment that they may not be able to transfer to a higher-ranked school. Perhaps other schools experience this same phenomenon, but I have never seen it so pervasive and so vocal as at UM. It seems as though students enter with an inferiority complex that may be driving some of what Michael has discussed in his post, and the “transfer” factor is very good evidence of this.

  10. Michael says:

    I don’t know what’s happening elsewhere in terms of on-campus conversations, but its undoubtedly a fact that there’s a lot more transferring nationally than there used to be even five years ago, when it was mostly limited to hardship cases and the very occasional brilliant student.

    The reason for this change seems to be that many near-top-ranked schools think they can game the USN&WR statistics by admitting a smaller and more credentialed 1L class — making their entering class appear to have higher LSAT and grades and also making them look more selective — then bulk up their tuition revenues by admitting a fair number of transfers as 2Ls where the LSATs don’t matter for US News….

  11. Michael says:

    Marc R. —

    One WilmerHale (formerly Wilmer, Cutler) partner, now semi-retired as a “Sr. Counsel”, is a UM Law grad. And so is one current associate (a lateral from Akerman Senterfitt here in Miami). I bet neither got the job due to who their parents were.

    It’s certainly true that a lot of people who hire are snobbish about credentials and/or they are going to jerk your chain about it either for fun or because they think that’s how to interview. So you need a good answer to that stuff–maybe discussing some of the meatier classes you had, and suggesting they are pretty good challenges?

    I’ll stack my Administrative Law and Internet Law classes against almost any in the country. And to hear my students complain, the reading sure makes a stack…

  12. 1L says:

    Mark, rsojo, and Prof. Froomkin,
    I think the word “elite” does not refer to what you have going into Harvard/Yale/Berkeley but what you are offered on the way out. The top student at Miami may struggle to get a job against a student in the middle of the classes at those schools.

    “I don’t know quite what to call it … it’s not exactly entrepenurialism, nor willingness to work, nor thinking out of the box, but a sort of imaginative and ambitious self-starting. Maybe it’s just ‘attitude’.”
    -Prof. Froomkin

    I think this is an example of an elitist attitude. Saying that the students wouldn’t fit in. Isn’t that the definition of what the discussion is about. It isn’t about hard work, because if that was the case the top student at Miami would be getting jobs over Middle of the road to low end students from those schools. I don’t believe that is the case. I was speaking with a member of the Law Review today and this person said “I can’t believe how many of my colleagues don’t have jobs for the summer. It was supposed to be easy for us.” If those on the law review are struggling for jobs what does it say for the rest of us.

    You say to take risks and I have. I applied to, emailed and called over 125 law firms from Dec. 1(when 1Ls are allowed to start calling firms) to Jan. 3. I got 1 interview. I have enough rejection letters to wallpaper my apartment. I have moved on and gotten an internship with a judge. But please don’t say that Miami students are not willing to work hard. It insults me and it should insult the ethic you are instilling in the students.

  13. Michael says:

    As I said a couple of posts ago, “I graduated during a time of rapid expansion in the entry-level lawyer market. Today the economy is uncertain; students here and now have no less debt in real dollars, and have reasons beyond the relative statuses of the schools to be nervous about their futures.” And 1Ls — who in relative terms provide the least return to employers for their salaries (regardless of where they went to law school) — undoubtedly feel the brunt of it. Regardless of what the folks on the law review were told, the summer job market for 1Ls hasn’t been easy for several years, and even in the best of times, lots of the prestige jobs were non-paying. (Incidentally, an internship with a judge is a good thing to do for three reasons: (1) good experience, (2) good for resume, (3) might lead to a real clerkship down the road either with the judge or with a judge s/he’s friendly with. And it’s not that easy to get; you should feel good about this.) Incidentally, for all that I went to Yale, my 1L job wasn’t with a firm either; I worked for an environmental group that didn’t pay its interns. I found a housesitting gig, and paid the grocery bill with a small stipend from the equivalent of a HOPE fellowship.

    The rest of your post suggests I wrote in a way much too susceptible to misunderstanding. For example, by ‘fitting in’ I meant that our students are not very different from their students; I wasn’t referring to whether our students belong to country clubs (although if I had to guess, there are more country club types here than there, but who knows?).

    Nor was I intending to suggest that UM students don’t work hard. Many do. Indeed, based on what I hear from visiting professors, I’d say that in terms of being prepared for class the modal UM student has a lot to boast about compared to many law schools. What I was trying to get, however inartfully, at is that a surprising number of people — not everyone, and I won’t even say a majority, but nonetheless a very noticeable fraction — are surprisingly passive about taking charge of their lives and careers, or even trying to game the system. (Next time you see me on the Bricks, once the strike is over, stop me and I’ll tell you a couple of stories.) It’s a big school, and I’m happy to say that this generalization certainly doesn’t cover everyone by a long shot. But it’s still something I notice more than I’d like.

  14. Phill says:

    I am not a lawyer, but I do seem to buy quite a lot of legal services. Since when was becoming a law professor the acme of the profession?

    Getting into academia has been hard for the past few decades, departments expanded massively in the 50s and 60s. When I was at MIT about 90% of the profs attending faculty lunch were in their late 50s. Eventually the retirements will come.

    I think that the anecdotes being told have more to do with the legal profession being behind the times on elitism itself. Sure there are plenty of folk from top five universities (or the ten or so universities that consider themselves such) who go in for the snobery thing. The US is a very class centered society, far more so than the UK.

    As a buyer of legal services I care much more about the quality of the work done, the effectiveness of the briefs prepared etc than how many partners went to Ivy league schools. I am pretty certain that few judges think about the law school a lawyer went to when reading an argument.

    To the extent I have an opinion on the ivy league schools it is mostly negative. Most still discriminate against applicants whose parents did not go to their school. That by itself makes me consider Harvard second rate at best. Harvard law did gain a lot of attention from high profile faculty such as Alan Dershowitz, but it has also suffered as he has become an advocate for the use of torture.

  15. Adam says:


    First, let me say that I do enjoy your openness and willingness to address these issues. Always go to go around a bit.

    I am curious about your job market statements. Are you saying that the pinch is everywhere, and that a student at a top-ten school is going to notice this in some way? Note: DC, NY, and Chicago just raised their starting pay (including summer associates) to 145K. Is this a sign of a tight market? If so, there are some economic rules that have been turned on their heads.

    Or, perhaps, the nature of the beast is that the system of hiring both professors and associates is absolutley tied to your schoo’s US News ranking? And, of course, if a student really busts their butt, they might be some room for them–you can always fall back on this statement, but let’s be real: it matters, and it matters a lot.

    There seems to be 2 ways professors address this: 1. Like you have: ‘Don’t sell yourself short. You can do it!’ — denying the reality of the rule and pointing to the exceptions. Or 2. ‘Now that I’m out… the system is broken! It must be fixed!’ Aside: ‘Just as long as my school stays in the top 3…’

  16. Michael says:

    Adam —

    Let me start by admitting that all I know about current hiring market conditions is second-hand at best; some comes from students, and a lot comes just from reading trade journals. It’s not much better than gossip.

    With that firm foundation, my sense is that the pinch is almost everywhere — for 1Ls. But like most things in hiring, the more the school is considered elite, the larger the % of the class which is shielded from the slowdown.

    The market for recent graduates is a substantially different thing. For one thing, it’s not one market, but seems highly segmented. There is a small group of firms who compete with each other and appear terrified to be seen to be paying less than their competitors. Exactly why this is remains hard to fathom. Is it because they want to look elite to their clients? Do they think there is that big a quality difference between law students (and that their training is not able to make it up)? Is it really about recruiting the most mercenary so they can exploit them with clear consciences? I honestly have no idea any more.

    What I do suspect rather strongly is that this is a tulip mania phenomenon. Associate salaries are no longer economically rational, as senior associates pull down more than junior partners in some of the firms that are trying to keep up with the Cravaths. And the clients will rebel at the hourly rates too. And there just aren’t many hours left to be screwed out of associates any more to pay for those salaries. I don’t think it can go on like this for more than a few more years.

    Not to mention that while I’m sure the money is great, the life isn’t so great any more, because they sure work you for those dollars. And the need to pay associates, and summer associates these top dollars just makes firms even more reluctant to hire 1Ls from most places, since they’re mostly a loss from a billing point of view.

    But my sense is that the market for graduates is more accessible than the market for 1Ls. When firms are hiring 1Ls they have almost nothing to go on beyond what got you into law school, so it’s hardly surprising that risk averse firms tend to replicate the decisions of the top law schools (or free ride on them…). By the time you are graduating, there’s a lot more recent and relevant data available about you. Every firm claims to believe — and I think most mean it — that the top students from many schools beats the middle student from the top schools. Of course, they don’t all agree on any of the definitions of ‘top’ in that sentence.

    To answer your question, if your definition of “it” is “landing a first-year associate job after graduation paying $145,000 per year” then, no, I don’t think everyone in this or most other law schools can do it, although some clearly can and do. They have good grades, recommendations, writing, probably some extracurricular activity, some sign of life outside law school, and they interview well. There remain a few law schools where most who want to can probably land that sort of job — although interestingly lots of people choose other kinds of work.

  17. Phill says:

    > I have had one professor call Rehnquist a racist and a sexist, another (the author of this blog incidentally) question the humanity of George W. Bush, and heard of another with a book by Al Franken among the course’s required “texts.”

    Renquist’s racism is unfortunately simply a matter of the record. He was a product of his time. He argued against desegregation. A lawyer has to present his client’s case to court, he is under no obligation to endorse it in any other forum. He was observed participating in voter suppression, trying to turn away black voters from the polls.

    Renquist will be remembered as a racist party hack and not just by Democrats.

  18. Linda says:

    I was an architecture professor at the University of Oklahoma. As a Yale school graduate (M.Arch 2001), I know that many of my students labeled me as elite until they learn that I came from an economically disadvantaged background. Plus, they appreciated my efforts to guide them towards the career that would suit them.

    Over my four years of teaching I have become interested in the legal issues that affect the architectural profession. After moving to LA for my husband’s career, I took my LSAT on a whim and only got a 163 (terrible for the girl who scored a 1500 on her SAT over ten years ago). I applied to Pepperdine, Loyola, UCLA, and USC. So far, I have only been accepted at Pepperdine – and they offered me a full tuition scholarship. Is it hard to enter the legal profession after you have turned thirty? Will I be able to get a job with a degree from Pepperdine? Some of your discussions about rank and the job market have made me think that if I do not get into USC or UCLA, I should not attend law school.

  19. Max says:

    I’m a 3L at Temple Law; my fiance is a 3L at Harvard Law. Outside of our close contacts there, I know lots of people both at “inferior” schools like Widener and Villanova and “superior” schools like Yale and Columbia. I’ve been pondering the difference for quite some time.

    I agree with Michael in a lot of regards: there is a certain je ne sais qua difference between your typical “elite” law school student and your typical “typical” law school student. It’s certainly not raw brainpower or creativity or knowledge. In my mind, it’s largely a mixture of confidence and “language.” Which do you say: “I don’t know” or “I’m not sure?” How about: “none of the readings made any sense” or “there are good arguments for all of the positions?” The underlying thoughts behind each set of examples are likely the same, but the choices create radically different impressions. One of ignorance & idiocy; the other of deliberation & subtlety.

    This “language” obviously flows in part from confidence — confident people don’t presume their failure to understand a reading is their fault, they presume it’s the writer’s fault, and will aggressively assert their own interpretation. But in another part it’s pure socioeconomic class, reinforced at each stage of the educational process. Want to learn to speak with confidence? Go to Yale. Want to have the confidence, every time you argue in front of a judge, that you have the law right? Go to Yale Law. Are they always “right,” as in certain what a court will do? Of course not — notice how many law professors just got blasted 8-0 in the Solomon Amendment case. But they have the je ne sais qua that allows them to assert themselves when it matters.

    Unfortunately, such confidence will only help once you get your foot in the door. And while I know a tiny handful of people at Temple working at white shoe NYC firms, or at important Washington DC government jobs, or in bigshot Federal Clerkships, the simple fact remains that employers beat the door down to Harvard/Yale/etc and frequently don’t even bother with resumes from places like Temple or UM. Why? Beats me — I can say with, ahem, confidence that the top 10% of Temple easily outmatches the bottom half of Harvard, and that the bottom 10% of Harvard would be easily devoured by the top half of Temple. But they do it anyway; your best bet, if you’re at one of these lowly schools, is to consider OCI an unlikely luxury, and to instead rely on calling in personal references, sending out resumes, and burning up some shoe leather. After miserable 1L and 2L OCI experiences, I was offered my dream job a few months ago after working three jobs last summer, one of which was an unpaid internship where I worked hard and spoke confidently, impressing the boss. It’s just what you have to do.

    In some ways, this helps — keep in mind that the vast, vast majority of Harvard students are shuttled into NYC associate jobs they will hate. Most will not make partner and will toil in obscurity for years before finding something else less lucrative and more enjoyable. Do most law students really want that?

    As for students seeing themselves as younger versions of their professors well, um, no. As a weird law dork myself, let me say that, even to people like me, law professors come across as weird law dorks, even the cool ones. Most law students see themselves as young people with a lot of debt who really really need a job, please give me a chance, I will prove myself, I just need a job. They see their professors as usually-smart (sometimes not) weirdos with extremely stable and cushy jobs. Not as themselves plus a decade or two or three.

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