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Welcome back campers! Let’s get started with our latest edition of “Cooking with Bermo”…wait, that doesn’t sound right…
Before I get into this, I have to put out a little disclaimer: I swear I did not write this column just to rag on D.C. I have great friends who live down there. They’re wonderful people and they always show me a good time whenever I’m in town. But, there’s just something about that city that rubs me the wrong way. Anyway, if you’re a big fan of the place and you have thin skin, perhaps this column’s not for you. Tune in again next time when we learn how to pan sear monkfish tail to perfection.
So, I went down to D.C. last week for a job fair. As my loyal readers well know, I’m about half-a-step shy of full-on panic mode when it comes to my impending unemployment. So, neither my distaste for D.C. nor my frequent, nightmarish flashbacks to the NYU PILC Fair could keep me away from this one-of-a-kind opportunity to schmooze with people who, in reality, have nothing to offer me. To that end, I packed a bag with my favorite suit, shined my shoes up real nice, and jumped on a Mega Bus down to the joyous land of K Street lobbyists, grown-up kickball, and modern racial segregation.
Damnit! I swear I’m not writing this just to gripe about D.C.
I got into town around mid-day and went to drop off my bags at a friend’s office in Dupont Circle. As I was getting off the metro – don’t you DARE call it the subway – ascending those colossal escalator shafts that look more like recycled missile silos than a public transit system, I noticed a crowd of easily 150 people queued up on the sidewalk, waiting to get into a packed restaurant. Naturally, it was all decked out in that faux-chic corporate style that pervades the culture of culinary decor in the District. And, from a quick glance, they were serving up bowls of “Thai noodles” that looked more like a college ramen binge than the lunch special at Joya. My Gotham-inspired sense of elitist indignation was pushing towards 11.
O.K., this is just getting mean. I’m really sorry…
After dropping off my bags, I made my way to the job fair. It was in a beautiful convention hotel and, upon arriving, I instantly began to wonder if the Marriott was hiring. I have to assume that two post-secondary degrees and a bartender’s license would at least qualify me to carry luggage, right?
The job fair itself was fine…I guess. Got my resume reviewed by a “professional” who failed to spot the one glaring typo I had on there; it was later pointed out by someone else (Thanks, Betsy!). I talked to a few employers, all of whom had been sent by their organizations to recruit yet none of whom had any actual jobs to offer.
They all said my resume looked good. I said thanks. They said call us in a few months. I said O.K. You get the idea; so I left.
Judging my afternoon an unmitigated success, I spent the rest of the day engaged in my usual activities of self-sabotage, ending the night by slamming tequila shots by my lonesome and passing out on an ex-girlfriend’s couch (full disclosure: she was sleeping in the other room with her very cool boyfriend).
Woke up the next morning with a nasty headache, a few questionable receipts which I found in my shoe, and surprisingly, still no job for next year. I then slowly made my way down to the National Mall – along the way, dodging about a dozen tour groups riding around on Segways – to meet a friend who was helping to organize a march. I spent the next few hours underdressed and in dire need of Advil, as I was introduced to an entirely new and loathsome aspect of D.C. culture.
Apparently there is a circuit of bands that play mindless, albeit vaguely inspirational, secular music to cater to the endless series of marches, rallies, and protests that go on down there. Who knew?
WTF??? I’m really not this much of a jerk. I swear.
And in that moment of ultimate self-pity, it occurred to me that the band I was trying so hard to ignore really wasn’t all that bad; the noodle bar I passed by the day before really didn’t look so awful; and I don’t really hate going to D.C. as much as I’ve been letting on – I can certainly think of worse journeys to go on. But, in this malaise, brought on by dismal prospects and endless second-guessing, I’m finding that my perception of everything is becoming tainted and diminished, and I don’t like it.
Walking through life wearing shit-colored glasses is no way live, and it’s about time that I stopped feeling so damned sorry for myself and started sorting out what’s in front of me. Are the answers going to come quick or easy? No. But that’s life, and it’s time to deal with it. And maybe, just maybe, I have D.C. to thank for that realization.
See, I told you I didn’t write this just rag on D.C. Now Boston, on the other hand…
Mike Berman is a 3L at BLS and a lesser-known candidate for the GOP Presidential nomination. He will be campaigning in Iowa starting this week and will therefore be unavailable for comment about this article.
Welcome to Brooklyn Law School – a tier-two legal institution where acquiring a full-time dean is impossible and models frolic in lingerie about the library. Whether you just started a month ago or are finishing up soon, there is a high probability you have had – or will have – B.L.S.G.:
“B.L.S.G” – Brooklyn Law School Goggles: a phenomenon in which one’s minimal contact with lay persons combined with an ever increasing exposure to 250 Joralemon makes unattractive persons appear beautiful.
For those of you who are married or in a committed relationship with a “lay person,” this column is not for you. And while the textualist definition of B.L.S.G. refers specifically to Brooklyn Law Students, this can be extrapolated to those unfortunate occurrences where, out in the NYC jungle, your lips were glued to a stranger you were subconsciously aware was way beneath you.
Broad or narrow – it doesn’t really matter. Spending the majority of your time surrounded by florescent lights between floors 4-6 starts to take its toll on your version of what a “reasonably prudent partner” should be. Your laptop and overly priced textbooks can’t offer you the warmth of someone’s arms and excitement over discussing Scalia-isms. If this continues beyond just a few quick hookups, it’s custom to then find simple excuses for the major hiccups in a very unstable “relationship.” I can point and laugh when I hear about another BLSG case, but I will never judge having been there more times than I would like to admit.
For instance, though fully aware that several of my past B.L.S.G.s would be in attendance, I could not resist checking out the BLSPI-ILS Halloween Party last Thursday. My first thought when walking into Geraldo’s: “WTF….I am now having a warped Saved By The Bell-John Hughes high school experience.” Indeed, there were some solid costumes – a difficult first prize tossup between Kuklin and Edward Scissor Hands. The drunkenness then continued to Last Exit for the “date auction,” organized by IALSA and co-sponsored by OutLaws, ILS and APALSA. This was a first for me, and quite mind boggling: I can’t say I have ever seen a vampire auction off twenty-something year olds like pieces of fresh meat. I was silently horrified, though I couldn’t help laughing at the bug-eyed bumblebee shaking his lights, Harry Potter’s magic tricks, and Captain America letting it all hang out.
In the end, I am glad I witnessed this spectacle. Of course I had some amazingly awkward interactions with my B.L.S.G.s – this is just the price I now pay for past “goggled” decisions. I have no regrets, though I hope you will learn from my mistakes when dealing with your own B.L.S.G.
Check back next week for more of Lizzie B’s adventures in the BLS dating scene.
Correction: An earlier version of this article misidentified the sponsors of the Halloween date auction as BLSPI-ILS. BLSPI sponsored the party, but not the auction.
On October 20, several students had the opportunity to share their lunch break with Narda Jones of the Federal Communications Commission as part of the Dean’s Alumni Roundtable program. A Brooklyn Law graduate, Jones arrived at the FCC several years ago after working as a prosecutor in Minnesota. She had dipped her toes into telecommunications and energy law in the Midwest, which helped her get her first job at the FCC. She was also eager to get back to the east coast, having grown up in New York City. Given her previous work enforcing the sexually dangerous person law, she welcomed the opportunity to practice in the somewhat less emotional area of telecom.
Jones quickly rose up through the ranks at the FCC, working first as a staff attorney and eventually becoming chief of the Strategic Analysis and Negotiations Division of the FCC’s International Bureau, the position she holds currently.
The International Bureau supplies technical expertise to the Department of State and represents the FCC internationally at meetings where treaties related to telecommunications are negotiated. Jones said she regularly meets with her regulatory counterparts in other countries to discuss the challenges they share.
One of those challenges is what Jones described as the “boundariless” Internet.
She described that there’s an ongoing debate within the international telecommunications community over how much regulation to impose on the Internet. The U.S. is in often in the minority, she said, in that many countries would impose more controls and rules on the Internet than we would.
The FCC often argues that “it most benefits innovation and economic growth to leave the Internet unregulated.”
In light of that stance, Jones said one challenge has been explaining to other countries why the FCC chose to impose the network neutrality rules that the agency passed last year in order to help ensure the free flow of information on the Internet. Her solution is to try to explain to her counterparts that there are some areas in which “a light touch” is required.
Hannah Roth, ’12, asked Jones whether she feels international communications policy influences domestic policy or the other way around. Jones explained that in many areas domestic policy is on a continuum — for example, the government and private sector stakeholders are participating in ongoing healthy discussions about cybersecurity. The concepts of free flow of information and maximum security for data and transactions are two of the issues that are most frequently raised in these deliberations.
She further explained that the U.S can often participate in international discussions by focusing on the issues and the interests served by the various positions.
Jones attributed her success to having “great mentors” and advised students to seek out their own career mentors, and not to be picky about who they choose. “I took my mentors as I found them,” she said, adding, “people love to talk about themselves.”
She also noted that despite not having had a “sterling academic career,” her work record and varied background brought her to where she is today.
“You always get your chance to shine. You’ve got to be ready.” She explained that working in government she does not always have the luxury of hiring new people when there is a new task to be done. “We’ll pick the people who shine.”
Jones identified privacy and cybersecurity as important growth areas for young lawyers.
The BLS ACLU and Federalist Society held their fall debate on October 11 in front of a packed student lounge. This year’s topic was the decriminalization of marijuana, a longtime point of contention that has recently found its way back into the news, with Congress currently debating a bill to decriminalize the drug and many state governments considering changes in their criminal drug laws.
Two students debated on each side: Sarah DeStefano, ’12, and Randal Meyer, ’14, for the Federalist Society, and Adam Bird, ’14, and Brian Zapert, ’13, for the ACLU. Each side was entitled to a 7-minute opening comment, a five-minute rebuttal and a 2-minute final rebuttal at their discretion.
Upon winning the coin toss, Bird kicked off the debate for the ACLU. The crux of his argument was that the law and policy around marijuana use in this country needs to change. Bird bolstered this argument by citing the lack of a single medically documented death from marijuana consumption, as opposed to alcohol consumption. He also argued that “marijuana consumption leads to violence” only because the sellers of marijuana are criminals, and as in the prohibition era, “disputes cannot be solved except by violence.” As an alternative to the current system, he suggested cutting down on arrests for simple possession of marijuana.
“The sensible thing to do, and I think most of you agree, is a system of regulation and taxation on marijuana in the same way alcohol is taxed and regulated,” Bird said.
Meyer opened his argument for The Federalist Society by quoting The Big Lebowski, and noting the negative health effects of marijuana. As a matter of policy, he argued, there is “no reason to permit the availability of marijuana to everyone when you can limit it to cancer patients.”
While conceding that criminal law around marijuana use is overly harsh, he suggested reforming the system by imposing a fine on users of small amounts of marijuana instead of imprisoning them.
The debate shifted focus from crim law to con law when panelists began to argue over federalism, the supremacy clause and the racially disparate results of prosecuting marijuana use.
Though the debaters declined to devote debate time to questions of philosophy and morality, the FedSoc debaters summed up the morality issue by posing a simple question: “Do we really want our justice system to be undermined because we want to allow weed as a country?”
Photos courtesy of Liz Komar.
Ten or twenty years ago, it would have been difficult to imagine a law school facing a lawsuit from its own students. Law school has long occupied a hallowed (if bizarre) place in the national imagination. Many think of it as a place where students work too much and sleep too little, lug around overly large books with overly boring titles, and have their egos shattered by sharp-tongued professors… all to get a good job in the end. For all the bizarreness of law school though, it has never before been thought of as a place where students go to be defrauded.
But times have changed. On October 5, lawyers pursuing litigation against New York Law School and Thomas Cooley Law School announced their intent to file new class action lawsuits against fifteen more law schools, alleging fraudulent misrepresentation and violations of consumer protection law. Listed among their intended targets is Brooklyn Law School, as well as other New York area schools such as St. John’s University School of Law, Pace University School of Law, and Hofstra Law School.
The announcement marked the most recent shots in an escalating battle between law schools and their recent graduates. Finding the job market less accommodating than they expected, many law school graduates have turned their frustrations on the legal academy itself, alleging that the employment statistics and salary information that they relied on when enrolling were inaccurate and misleading, even rising to the level of consumer fraud.
Jesse Strauss, formerly of the firm Kurzon Strauss and a BLS graduate, already represents plaintiffs in the actions filed over the summer against NYLS and Thomas Cooley. He is also one of the attorneys who announced the intent to file the fifteen new class action suits. In an interview conducted before that announcement, he spoke candidly about the results he hoped to attain in the lawsuits:
“In terms of what we hope to accomplish, we obviously want to try to get some damages back to the folks who we allege were defrauded. But more importantly, for the legal education community as a whole, we want to restore rationality to the way legal education is marketed.”
In a recent article in Above the Law, Strauss said that he fully expected some lawsuit to be brought against almost every law school in the country by the time 2012 came to a close. And in his September interview with the Advocate, Strauss provided a hint that he fully expected the scale of lawsuits to expand:
“There’s no shortage of plaintiffs—I’ll put it that way,” Strauss said. “There’s certainly a lot of folks who we believe were mislead into taking on 150,000 dollars of debt, only to end up with the same job prospects they would have had with a BA.”
Yet the legal academy has staunchly defended its marketing practices. James Thelen, Associate Dean and General Counsel at Cooley, told the Advocate that his school complies with all ABA standards and government regulation. Moreover, he questions the motives and rationale behind the attorneys and graduates attempting to change that system through litigation.
“I will happily say that there’s room for debate on the future of legal education, the cost, the role of the federal government in the student loan industry,” Thelen said in a September interview with the Advocate. “All of those things are the proper subjects of debate. But the idea that you can twist it all into a lawsuit that doesn’t have any merit is just not a good use of time.”
Perhaps more importantly, he noted that it would be impossible for any school to guarantee that all of its students will find work in their chosen field.
“Nobody, I think, looking at this institution reasonably, would believe that any institution of higher education, or any graduate school, sends its graduates out with a promise of employment,” he said. “Just on that simple idea alone, I don’t believe that these cases have any merit.”
As the economic recession has lingered over the years, the contracting legal job market has led more and more out-of-work law school graduates to question the value of their legal education. Because many of these students have taken out substantial student loans, non-dischargeable even in bankruptcy, they find themselves with few options to pay down that debt and a growing struggle to find full-time legal employment.
As early as 2009, a number of websites and blogs sprouted up to provide forums for a sense of outrage from recent grads unable to find work. Online commentators frequently argue that law schools are perpetrating a scam on their students, relying on disingenuous methods to inflate job numbers and average salary rates. They pointed to statistics reporting 90%+ employment rates and six figure salaries for first year graduates as evidence of an ongoing fraud. Sources such as Above the Law and Law School Transparency have provided some of the harshest criticism, while mainstream media publications including the New York Times have also started to report on the issue.
On May 26, Thomas Jefferson School of Law became the first law school to face a class action lawsuit. In the complaint (pdf), plaintiff Anna Alaburda, a 2008 honors graduate of TJSL, stated that she was unable to find full-time legal employment even after passing the bar and sending out some 150 resumes to various firms. The filing noted that TJSL’s U.S. News and World Report statistics claimed that 80.1% of graduating students were employed 9 months after graduation, and alleged common law fraud, negligent misrepresentation, and violations of various state consumer protection statutes. Some commentators praised the suit as a first step towards increasing transparency in the legal academy.
The Thomas Cooley and New York Law School Suits
After the Thomas Jefferson suit was filed, it seemed like only a matter of time until more lawsuits would follow. When Above the Law reported that advertisements had appeared online claiming to investigate whether Thomas Cooley Law School had been manipulating its statistics, it seemed clear that Cooley would be a potential target down the line.
Cooley had long been a bulls’ eye for law school critics. In addition to being the largest law school in the U.S., with five different campuses across the country, the school has been particularly vocal in promoting the value of a law degree. The school also attracted controversy by promulgating an alternative ranking system, which this year ranked Cooley as the #2 law school in the country (Cooley is unranked in the 2011 U.S. News and World Report rankings). These kinds of actions had provoked suggestions that the school was ripe to be targeted in the next lawsuit.
This time, however, it was the school that sued first, filing a defamation suit on July 14 against the firm of Kurzon Strauss, as well as four anonymous bloggers. Among the misstatements that Thelen pointed to as grounds for the suit against the firm were grossly inaccurate reports about the rate of Cooley graduates’ student loan defaults.
“They also stated in the post that we were under investigation by the Department of Education,” Thelen said. “That was false. They stated in the post that we were falsifying our reporting numbers on defaults to the department of Education, and that was false. Then they made the general claim that we were defrauding our students and would continue to do so if we weren’t stopped. All of those statements are just blatantly false.”
On August 10, Kurzon Strauss filed its own suits against both Cooley and New York Law School, alleging claims similar to those voiced in the Thomas Jefferson suit. The suits are rooted in the same concept that has motivated debate for the past several years: that these schools have been misrepresenting their employment figures to potential students to sway them towards an investment they otherwise might not.
“Thomas Cooley has many, many, many critics, from people who’ve gone through that program, and have just not gotten jobs,” Strauss said. “It’s currently the largest law school in the country. And from my perspective, unlike some other schools, they’re what I call incorrigible. They keep putting out these reports that demonstrate that if you get a law degree, you’ve got a better chance of getting a job. It’s really disingenuous of them in the current market to keep doing that.”
Unsurprisingly, Thelen took issue with Strauss’ statements:
“If anything, maybe one report which Jesse Strauss is referring to, which we released a few weeks ago and is available on our website, analyzed the nature of employment of a lawyer as a professional occupation,” he said. “And what the federal government’s own statistics show is that a lawyer as a professional has one of the lowest unemployment rates of any profession out there, except for just a couple in the healthcare field…
“So is a law degree valuable? Certainly, if you’re looking for a professional job, lawyers as a profession have one of the lowest unemployment rates out there. Does that mean it hasn’t become harder to get a job out there as a lawyer? Well, of course not. In the recession, it has become harder.”
Another issue in the complaints is the less highlighted practice of inflating reporting numbers by offering recent graduates jobs or fellowships. While Strauss argues that this kind of employment is not what anyone goes to law school to do, such jobs frequently enable schools to claim that their students are employed after graduation.
“Look, there’s no doubt that it has been reported in the national media that there have been some bad actors who fudge their employment reporting by hiring a number of their graduates right at the nine month mark when they are supposed to be reported,” Thelen said. “Cooley does not engage in that practice, and I would challenge Mr. Strauss to show any facts that we do.”
The Broader Picture—ABA and Public Policy
While some have applauded the plaintiffs’ efforts in these actions, others question whether they have any reasonable chance of success, or even whether the courthouse is the proper place to effect regulation of the legal academy.
In thinking about the merits of the case in an interview given before the October 5th announcement, Professor Robin Effron said that it seemed unlikely that the suits would actually succeed in the long-term.
“The position of the courts generally has been to give a wide degree of deference to educational institutions in their own decision making,” she said. “Whether or not that will carry over to fraud allegations, I don’t know, because it’s focused less on institutional choices and more on disclosure of certain materials. But even here, the issue has really been, ‘has Congress or a state legislature been requiring more? And should the ABA or U.S. News have stricter standards?’
“My guess is, courts will look at this and say, if we were writing ABA regulations maybe we’d want more stringent data too, but we weren’t. And short of a finding that New York Law School was actually manipulating data… It seems unlikely.”
This suggests one complaint with the strategy of filing individual lawsuits against the many law schools within the United States—that the proper method for effecting change should not be litigation against individual schools but rectifying lax supervision by the ABA or other regulatory bodies.
Recently, the ABA has faced some federal criticism, with Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA) writing letters urging that the Association take greater steps to regulate the statements of law schools. In response, the ABA stated that it is committed to ensuring transparency so that future law students can make informed decisions.
“What we’re doing is similar to what law schools all around the country do,” Thelen said, “so if we’re doing it wrong every law school in the country is doing it wrong.”
Strauss might not disagree, given his statements in October. He also noted that “everybody tells us to sue the ABA.” But he still believes that the proper target at this point is the individual schools.
“What we think is that the law schools know better and shouldn’t be putting misleading information into the market in the first place, and that to go after the ABA is not in anyone’s interest when we can go right to the perpetrator—which is the law school.”
Both Cooley and NYLS recently filed motions to dismiss the lawsuits. Each heavily highlights the ABA’s responsibility in the matter.
Recently, Jesse Strauss announced that he would break off from Kurzon Strauss to form a new firm, Strauss Law PLLC. He will continue to work with attorney David Anziska on the litigation, and intends to file suit against each of the other fifteen schools once he has at least three plaintiffs who graduated from each school. According to Above the Law, the fifteen schools appear to have been targeted because they reported employed graduates at around the 90% mark in markets that already boast high levels of lawyers.
With respect to filing suit against his old law school, Strauss released the following statement by email:
“As a Brooklyn alum it’s not an easy thing to do but I can’t ask alum of other schools to step up and sue their school if I don’t have the courage to run a suit against my own. It’s a matter of principle. But I had a great experience at Brooklyn and have almost universal praise for the professors there (even the ones that serve as deans). I think it’s a great school and will be an even better one after we clean up this employment data mess.”
Strauss says that there was nothing inappropriate about the manner in which his firm investigated its claims before filing against Cooley, and fully expects the school’s defamation suit to be dismissed.
By contrast, Dean Thelen expects none of these class action lawsuits to hold up in court, and told the Advocate that he didn’t foresee any point at which a law school should consider outward factors such as the economy and scale back admissions. If someone interested in law school were to come to him today and voice concern about the job market, he says, he would tell them that a law degree is still a good investment.
Nonetheless, there are signs that the negative publicity is taking a toll on people’s desire to attend law school. In late September, the Wall Street Journal reported that law school application numbers for 2011 had fallen by almost 10%, the largest such decline in the past decade. Even still, the total number of applicants to ABA-approved law schools totaled 78,900 potential new law students.
As the Advocate reported on October 5, Brooklyn Law School has chosen not to comment on the possibility of any future litigation, with a spokesperson saying, “It would premature to comment at this time because we haven’t received any papers in the litigation.”
Dean Richard A. Matasar of New York Law School released a single sentence to the media regarding the pending suit, stating “These claims are without merit and we will vigorously defend against them in court.” NYLS officials politely declined to give further comment to the Advocate.
Briefs in Support of Motions to Dismiss:
After a delicious lunch overlooking the Brooklyn Bridge and the New York State Supreme Court building, Interim Dean Gerber hosted the third Dean’s Roundtable of the academic year on October 6. The guest speaker was Harriet Newman Cohen, Esq., class of 1974, who has carved out a highly successful career in matrimonial law. As a founding partner of the firm Cohen Rabin Stine Schumann LLP, Cohen represents high-income individuals and celebrities in family matters. She has been recognized with numerous awards such as the AV rating by Martindale and Hubbell and TOP lawyers by the NY Metro Super Lawyers.
At the beginning of her talk, Cohen discussed how the changing world of lawyers has enabled her to boost her credentials. She pointed to the Internet as an example, and noted changes in the way attorneys advertise themselves. With the development of electronic media and organizations such as Super Lawyers (an online rating system for attorneys), she said, “I am allowed to put myself out there.”
Cohen also explained that early on in her career she was known for giving talks about her area of expertise to diverse audiences. She urged students to make themselves available for speeches, and to get “out there” early on in their careers. Moreover, although all students might face early disappointments, she urged that success would follow. She recounted how, even though she had a low score on her admissions exam, she later became an editor of the Brooklyn Law Review.
Moving on from the professional aspect of her career, Cohen turned to the emotional element of her career. She explained how she has seen a change in parenting over the years. In the past, she recalled, the American family structure consisted of a stay-at-home mother, who took care of the children, and a father who went out to work and provided for the family. This is one of the reasons why it took her 18 years to start her legal career — attending law school or medical school was just not something women did at that time. In fact, before considering law school, she spoke often on the radio, arguing that women have a vital role in society that consists of raising the next generation to reach its utmost potential, and not to go to law school or medical school. However, she said, there has been a change in that structure — a change she has witnessed in her practice, with parents taking increasingly equal roles in the raising of their children. She explained that fathers today are increasingly aware of the “blessing” that is being close to their children.
At the end of her talk, Cohen explained that her job does not end at being a lawyer, but requires her to be a psychologist as well. She “educates her clients to become better people” and encourages peaceful settlement—the only possible win-win situation. After the talk ended, she was asked about her point of view about a recent New York Times article that proposed marriages with an expiration date. The idea would be to create a new type of marriage that expires after 2 years without having to go through the trouble of divorce. She said that she believed marriage is much more than that, and that she is against the proposal.
Michael Scala, a 3L at BLS, plans to announce his candidacy for U.S. House of Representatives for New York’s 6th congressional district at 3 PM today in Jamaica, Queens. Prior to his decision to run, he started an online petition, the Solid Ground movement. Scala sat down with The BLS Advocate last week for an interview.
BLSA: What inspired you to run for elected office?
MS: The current situation that we’re in – lets say the economy, the state of the country generally. I was someone who like many was disenfranchised for a long time and I thought that what happened in Washington stayed in Washington, essentially — it didn’t affect me and I couldn’t affect it. Two things really changed that for me: the presidencies of Bush and Obama, respectively. President Bush showed that it really does matter who is elected and who is in office, and everyday Americans can potentially suffer the consequences if the wrong person is elected. And i think President Obama showed that everyday Americans can influence the political system and there is a place in it for us.
If you’re asking why I’m running right now thats a different question but I can address that too – because I did go to law school with an eye on politics thinking I could one day run for office. I didn’t anticipate I’d do it so soon but I think it’s a necessary time. People are fed up with what’s going on in Washington, Congress’s approval rating is at an all-time low, people want new faces, and leadership. People would vote out every single member of Congress if given the opportunity – the majority of Americans actually said that in a poll. And I think it’s a crucial time now to get involved. They say sometimes you pick the moment, sometimes the moment picks you, and I feel this is the moment to do it.
BLSA: Did anything from your BLS experience inspire you to run?
MS: Not with regard to the curriculum — more so my interaction with my peers at Brooklyn Law School. I come from a hip hop background, neither of my parents went to college, so I came in feeling like an outsider, or that I would be perceived as an outsider. My 1L year I ran for SBA delegate and when I won that election it showed me that my peers in law school respected me and saw me as someone who could help them, they didn’t look down on me, it was a very positive experience and it showed I wasn’t a joke I wouldn’t be laughed at –I would be taken seriously and I had something to offer. Paul [Rozenberg, '12, my campaign manager] was first one who urged me to run for Congress and I’ve received a tremendous amount of support from my law school peers.
BLSA: What did you learn from your experience running for SBA president last year, and losing that election?
MS: When you don’t win an election it certainly doesn’t feel good. I didn’t look at it as so much of a political defeat. It didn’t discourage me from getting involved in politics more. I was able to separate what’s going on at school from what’s going in on in the world. One thing that it taught me is that we can’t do it alone. Even a school election like that has a lot of people helping you out. Now I know when running for Congress I’m going to need a lot of people behind me, it can’t be done alone.
BLSA: Tell us about your prior work experience – before law school and internships you’ve had during law school?
MS: I come from a hip hop background. For the past 11 or so years I’ve been a hip hop artist – that’s been my main gig. So I’ve toured the country performing hip hop music, in addition to speaking. That’s one of the ways I got involved with politics, at least my interest was piqued because in addition to performing I’d speak at colleges about getting involved in the democratic process, helping students vote, things like that. I did go to college, I went to Polytechnic University which is now Polytechnic Institute of NYU, and I studied computer science. I used that degree to help me with my own businesses, building websites. I worked for a nonprofit in Virginia for a year, as a website coordinator. I edited and published their weekly newsletter to members.
In law school I worked for the New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) union. I worked on cases involving teachers facing discrimination and helping defend them and fight for their rights. I liked it very much. I have an interest in civil rights generally, but don’t think I want to be employed as a lawyer. I’m interested in having own practice but like having flexibility.
BLSA: Have you considered any other offices other than U.S. representative?
MS: The conventional wisdom would say maybe start with a more local office, but I’m not looking at it from the perspective of trying to win a particular seat or get elected for my own sake. I’m looking at what’s happening and I’m satisfied with the state legislature. They just passed gay marriage for example. The president needs more support from Congress and if we want Congress to promote the values of everyday Americans then we need to elect more everyday Americans to Congress.
BLSA: Tell us about the district you hope to represent.
MS: It’s the 6th congressional district of New York, which is southeastern Queens where I was born, raised and spent most of my life. I grew up in Rosedale which was in the district. The district also includes Laurelton, Jamiaca, St. Albans, Cambria Heights, South Ozone Park, Queens Village, Hollis, Springfield Gardens, Old Howard Beach, the areas around JFK airport. Queens as far as I know, is the most diverse county in the entire country. I attribute the success of my upbringing to growing up in Queens and also attending public schools in Queens.
BLSA: How are you connecting with constituents in the district?
MS: I grew up there so I know a lot of people there. I have deep personal ties to the district. A lot of people I knew growing up who I still know are excited about the campaign and want to get involved. A lot of people I know who are very active in the local political scene are very excited. They’re frustrated with current leadership and want to make this happen.
BLSA: What’s your platform?
MS: Well my basic platform is that in order to get America working again we have to focus on the needs of everyday Americans; we have to develop a ground-up approach.
One of the things I did was presented my ideas before presenting myself as a candidate because that general idea of focusing on needs of everyday Americans is something every candidate should be presenting as their platform. The Solid Ground movement serves as basis for that platform and trying to get other candidates from the country to run on the same platform.
BLSA: What’s the single most important issue in your campaign?
MS: The economy in general is the most important issue in any campaign right now. My approach would be focusing on the needs of everyday Americans like I said. So in order to do that we need to make tax cuts for the wealthy expire and we need to cut back on the military budget a little bit in order to free up assets for essential programs that need to be strengthened — so programs like social security, Medicare, Medicaid, should not be cut. Education should not be cut. More money should be going to education — we shouldn’t be focusing on student loan cuts for example. People always say “you want to spend money on all these programs, where do you get the money from?” and we need to remind people that the money is there, it’s just being misused. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan cost us trillions of dollars. If we had that money we could be spending it on essential programs we need to be spending it on.
BLSA: How do you plan to raise campaign funds?
MS: We are in the beginning stages of planning fundraising events. Obviously raising money is a necessary evil of any campaign, not something I look forward to or think I’m going to enjoy, but it has to be done. This is really a grassroots effort though so most of the money will come from smaller donations — 5 dollars, 10 dollars. Obviously we hope to get large donations but I’m not running as the machine of the establishment, I’m running against them… so many of the funds are going to come from frustrated everyday Americans.
BLSA: Who will you appoint to be your chief of staff? Press secretary?
MS: We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.
BLSA: Can BLS students expect employment from you if they join your campaign?
MS: I want to do everything I can to help people who get involved because I think that like-minded people want to be working together, generally. So the kind of people working on my campaign are the kind of people whose values I share and I’d want to be working with regardless. So I’d want to do all I could to make sure that could happen.
BLSA: How can interested students get involved in your campaign?
MS: The website is scalaforcongress.com. They can also email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
On October 3, the BLS bookstore opened for the first time under new management. On Tuesday, the bookstore sponsored an Open House for students to become acquainted with the management and the changes in the bookstore experience for students. Students enjoyed cookies and refreshments while they explored the new features of the bookstore.
Follett Higher Education Group, the new management company, has debuted a new line of black and red BLS apparel and increased the availability of legal study aids and resources.
The new section of BLS-embroidered apparel includes sweatshirts, sweatpants, jackets, polo shirts, t-shirts, gloves, baseball caps, and beanies. There is also an array of new gifts and accessories for purchase, including: lanyards, license plate frames, bumper stickers, key chains, coffee mugs, and “Someone at Brooklyn Law School Loves Me” teddy bears.
Kim Myers, the regional manager of sales and operations for Follett Higher Education Group, emphasized that the new management will focus on creating a better customer service experience for students. Students can expect to find a better selection of reasonably priced apparel and gifts.
Myers also noted that Follett plans to expand the rental program so that more textbooks will be available to students at a lower price. However, students should not expect prices of textbooks to fluctuate anytime soon.
The bookstore will also continue to offer general school supplies as well as snacks and drinks.
If you haven’t already had the opportunity to check out the revamped bookstore, it is worth a visit. The new features make the bookstore an inviting place to grab a cup of coffee, browse a sea of legal study aids, or find a holiday gift for yourself or a loved one.
Store hours are: Mon/Weds/Thurs 9am-5pm; Tues/Fri 9am-4pm; Sat-Sun Closed. Online purchases for textbooks and accessories can be made through the new BLS bookstore website: www.BLS.bkstr.com
Greetings and Salutations!
My name is Mike; my friends call me Bermo. I’m a half Italian-half Jew from Jersey who likes to tell people he’s from Baltimore. I’m 27, I’m a Leo, and I’m the new resident columnist in these parts. Nice to have you on board as I present my take on the events and issues that matter to you – the students of BLS – and me – a 3L counting down the days ‘til they let me walk out of this place with a shred of dignity still intact.
In my column “Notions to Dismiss,” I hope to explore what it really means to be a graduating law student these days – exhausted, debt-ridden, and unemployed – and to provide you with another excuse to surf the web when you’re in class. Let’s be honest, you can only shop for shoes or read sports blogs for so long every day. And when that’s over with, I hope you’ll take a few minutes to drop by this spot and check out the veritable cornucopia of borrowed wisdom, clichéd platitudes and stale jokes I plan on offering up twice a month. I promise it’ll be worth the time.
Ohhh, who the hell am I kidding? I can’t even promise myself to take my meds every day… Never mind, let’s just get started.
So, I was one of the 20,000 people who marched from Foley Square to Zuccotti Park last Wednesday as part of the Occupy Wall Street protest. I can’t say that I believe in every cause being represented there. Who could? Those people are rallying for everything from radical socialism and wealth redistribution to ending agricultural subsidies and banning frack drilling. Some people want all student loan debt to be forgiven; others are marching for better jobs. I even saw one numb nuts with a pizza box that said “Legalize Online Poker.” It’s impossible to be for everything being advocated across the river – although that thing about the student loans sounds pretty good right about now. Instead, the real reason I wanted to be there was to see this phenomenon play out in person and to tap in to the raw energy and passion of all those people. Nothing gets the blood running like a good, old-fashioned protest, and this one did not disappoint.
As a lot of commentators have pointed out, there is no clear narrative to these protests; no cogent list of demands; no single message. Some call this a weakness, others a strength. I call it the inevitable reality when you have that many people all feeling like they got the short end of the stick. Interestingly enough though, the actual protest was like a microcosm for the lack of clear direction that surrounds it. There was no epicenter of activity; no single platform for speeches; no ring master leading the charge. Instead, there were all these seemingly self-contained pockets of frenetic activity, brought together by a common sense of injustice and packed on top of each other by the marked lack of square footage in Foley Square. It was quite a sight.
My purpose here, however, isn’t to recap the event or advocate for the protests – far better writers than myself will be handling that task for this publication. Instead, what I saw on Wednesday got me thinking a lot about my own situation and that of my peers who also plan to graduate in May. Never in my life have I wanted to reach a milestone so badly, yet been so afraid about what will happen when I get there (except for that one Christmas when I asked Santa for a Red Ryder Carbine Action Air Rifle…but the settlement agreement says I’m never supposed to talk about that ever again). Anyway, here I am, sitting on the precipice of a frighteningly unsettled future – the first loan payments just months away – hopelessly second guessing what was supposed to be the safe choice to go to law school, and all the while lamenting over how this is not the way this was supposed to work!
To that end, I can’t help but feel some parallels between our situation here and the core motivations behind the protests that are currently spreading from lower Manhattan to other parts of the country and the world. In fact, these comparisons work on multiple levels. The people in the park are surely divided by their individual causes, but they come together out of a common purpose. My classmates and I don’t share all the same goals for our futures, but our common needs are undeniably in sync. You don’t need to have everything in common with another person to stand beside them make your voices heard. That’s what’s going on in Lower Manhattan now, and I wonder if the needs of Brooklyn students won’t soon manifest in a similar outcry here.
And, to bring this analogy home, it is simply impossible to see some of the messages being espoused by the protesters and not be consumed by a sense of impending solidarity. So many young people at that protest carried signs telling stories of massive college debt, no health care, and only minimum wage jobs to cover irreconcilable expenses. Is that me in nine months? Is that you? Will that be all of us? It’s simply impossible to know now – unless you’re one of the lucky few who have a job already – but for me, it’s a notion that I cannot easily dismiss from my mind.
I guess we’ll have to wait a few more months to find out. Until then though, maybe I’ll just head on back to Zuccotti Park and rejoin all the action over there. Besides, some of those protest chants they had us doing were pretty catchy: “WE ARE THE 99%!!! WE ARE THE 99%!!! WE ARE THE 99%!!!”
“What are their demands?”
“Have you seen them? They’re so dirty and smelly!”
“Why are they protesting at Wall Street?”
“They don’t know what they’re talking about.”
These are a few of the questions and statements I’ve heard from many of my fellow law students about the Occupy Wall Street protest over the past few weeks. Many Brooklyn Law students seem to misunderstand, express unease, or even have outright contempt for what’s happening down in Zuccotti Park near Wall Street. I think that this protest is important to understand, because these protests demonstrate an intense disapproval with the corruption and greed that led to the current economic crisis. Some students have participated, either as protesters or legal observers, but this is addressed to the majority of students.
I was excited to join this protest when I first got a Facebook invite in August just after I moved to New York. I spent most of last spring in Madison, Wisconsin protesting the highly undemocratic and anti-worker legislation pushed by Scott Walker, the governor of Wisconsin. As an labor organizer, I was horrified that the current economic situation in the US was blamed on “greedy” public sector workers whose pensions were “too rich” and out of line with everyone else’s meager benefits. Hundreds of thousands of people participated in those protests and are still fighting to repeal that law. I feared that Wisconsin would be forgotten quickly and we would continue to allow the rich and powerful to scapegoat the working class and the poor. When I saw the invite from Adbusters, I could only hope that this fight against greed and inequality might spread beyond a single issue or locality.
The protests give voice to the anger and frustration many feel today. They focus that general dissent on the symbolic focal point of greed in America: Wall Street. As New York Times columnist Paul Krugman acknowledged in his editorial “Confronting the Malefactors” on Thursday: “The protesters’ indictment of Wall Street as a destructive force, economically and politically, is completely right.” Sure there are other places that deserve a good protest, but the bottom line is that Wall Street is symbolic of the excessive greed and total irresponsibility infecting our economic system. They were a significant hand in our current economic mess.
Saying that we should be protesting in Washington D.C. or in Midtown isn’t a valid criticism for two reasons. First, if we started these protests somewhere else, we would have been told why those places were inappropriate. Those who criticize our choice of location don’t really think we should be protesting at all. Second: we’re getting to it! Protests have sprung up all over the country and internationally. Friends of mine have participated in #OccupyLA (which was also endorsed by the LA City Council), #OccupyMN (bold people that sleep outside in Minnesota), and my cousin has even found sympathy protests in Korea, where she is teaching. Over 200 protests have sprung up and are growing more sophisticated. Occupy D.C. is picking up steam with marches on the US Chamber of Commerce and the IMF, a gathering at a church near Dupont Circle to mark the 10th anniversary of the U.S. war in Afghanistan, and a rally at Freedom Plaza with Ralph Nader as a speaker. And the Occupy protests are simply part of a larger movement. The organizers take their inspiration from Tahrir Sqare and the Arab Spring. The uprising in Madison this spring and the general strike in Greece last week indicate a growing opposition to global anti-worker austerity measures. Whatever it is that is happening is big and would be a mistake to ignore.
In response to the criticism that the protests have been incoherent in message and demands, I would argue that the protests have been wisely inclusive. There are protesters against the war, against the death penalty and the execution of Troy Davis, against money in politics, for taxing the richest amongst us, for workers’ rights, and other issues around on economic equality. I personally agree with many of the causes, but not always. The fact is, people are angry and frustrated with the way things are going. What I see is a wide variety of citizens finding common ground. And that common ground is the growing social and economic inequality in our society. They are bound together as “the 99%.”
What the protesters want is big, ambitious, and it brings people together. It is unlikely that we will change the way this country fundamentally works over the next weeks and months, but pressure is mounting for the-powers-that-be to make changes to appease the protesters and their sympathizers. Without protests in the streets and without growing numbers of Americans openly voicing their disapproval with our system, politicians will continue to choose corporate money over the greater good. So if you think there is something wrong in our society and that the gap has gotten too big in our economy, stop worrying if these kids should take a shower, or if their messages haven’t been vetted by focus groups and policy institutes, and get down to the protest and make your voice heard.
Ben Ward is a 1L member of the BLS National Lawyers Guild. He was most recently the organizer of the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW).