By Elie Mystal
William Robinson III (a.k.a. the guy who needs to explain how he afforded his Corvair in the first place).
Robinson had the grace and the courage to tell law students it was their own fault for the rampant price gouging that happens as a result of the ABA’s ineffective oversight of law schools. It took real strength of character for Robinson to share this anecdote: “When I was going to law school . . . I sold my Corvair to make first-semester tuition and books for $330.” I mean, how many people in Robinson’s position would be so out of touch that they think prospective law students are driving automobiles that can cover a whole semester of tuition at an American law school!
That’s right, future 1Ls, don’t get too used to your Jaguar XKR. Don’t become too attached to your Lexus hybrid. You’ll need to sell your luxury automobile to pay for law school. D’uh!
Sorry, I’m still flabbergasted that the president of the American Bar Association openly admitted to being a complete joke.
When the story broke the other day, I had the good fortune of being in Washington, D.C., at the annual conference of the Association of American Law Schools (AALS). The law school at the University of California – Irvine invited me to speak to law school professionals and deans about how law schools could better use (or avoid) social media.
And let me tell you, law school professionals — the people who have to deal with the perception of general ABA incompetence on a day-to-day basis — were not at all happy with William Robinson’s comments….
I asked about ten public relations or communications professionals about Robinson’s comments. Nobody would go on the record with me. It was kind of funny; nobody would even go on the record to say “no comment.” At least Bill Robinson won’t be dragged through the press by member institutions for his insensitive remarks.
But that doesn’t mean they didn’t have opinions. When I asked people, I heard, “I can’t believe he said that,” or “Great, the ABA makes my job more difficult, AGAIN.” There was disbelief and a bunch of grumbling, especially as the news percolated around the conference in the morning.
But as the day wore on, people had an opportunity to reflect more on Robinson’s statements. Said one PR person for a top 100 law school:
It’s frustrating because he has a point worth making. The information is out there… and law students… everybody in these times, have to take advantage of the information that is out there….
But who was the person that even let him do that interview and say those things?
Frustrating is how a couple of other people described Robinson:
The conversation about the cost of law school and what to do about it has been going on for years. It is… frustrating for Robinson to come in and preach about what is, at best, one part of the problem.
But perhaps the most telling comment was from a person representing a relatively new law school:
At my law school, we are [long spiel about the heroic attempts his law school has made to keep tuition down]. We want people to know what they’re getting into financially, and make smart decisions with loans and debt….
What was your question? Robinson? Yeah, don’t care.
Well played, anonymous sir. Robinson’s comments might have been insensitive, out-of-touch, and incorrect — but who cares? It’s not like any other ABA president has done anything to help control the cost of law school tuition. It’s not like any law school administrator or dean is thinking about the ABA and their new smack-talking president when they present their projected budgets to the presidents of their universities.
Robinson’s words might sting and might make him look like an idiot, but they carry the force and effect of a Jon Huntsman campaign ad.
Let me put it this way: I wanted to talk to people about William Robinson, but nobody wanted to talk to me about him. The law school administrators wanted to talk about what law schools were doing — not the latest dumbass missive from the ABA.