John Grisham’s most recent novel, The Rooster Bar, turns the the staid world of for-profit law schools into a gripping thriller. For-profit law schools first became an interest of Grisham’s when he stumbled across the issue in a 2014 article in The Atlantic by Paul Campos, “The Law-School Scam.”
Campos’s article explained how for-profit law schools, some of which are owned by private-equity firms, make money by admitting students that no other schools will admit, convincing those students to take out government loans that they likely won’t be able to repay. The schools create temporary jobs to coincide with the American Bar Association’s employment-status reporting deadline, inflating the statistics about how well their students are doing post-graduation, and, with that, inflating their students’ and prospective students’ sense of their future job prospects. The private-equity firms’ role wasn’t born out of some particular interest in legal education, but, as one former professor told Campos, “was quite possibly based on a very-short-term investment perspective: the idea was to make as much money as the company could as fast as possible, and then dump the whole operation onto someone else when managing it became less profitable.”
Grisham’s book follows three third-year law students, Zola, Mark, and Todd, who realize that they’ve been duped into taking out enormous loans to attend Foggy Bottom Law, a sub-par for-profit law school that hasn’t helped them get the good jobs they’d been promised. After a friend loses his mind because of the debt he’s in, the three start investigating the shadowy figures behind their law school and the loan industry.