The “there’s an app for that” joke has been a dumb cliché for almost a decade. Nowadays folks are pretty much accustomed to basing their choice in everything from artisanal cupcake stores to swingers clubs according to what other relatively angry people have said on Yelp. So it wasn’t entirely surprising when Yelp, the site that monetized the ramblings of agoraphobics whining about neighborhood Chili’s, decided to take on U.S. News and World Report’s monopoly on people complaining about law schools.
What was surprising about this development is how Yelp marketed this “new” push of theirs: via an incredibly obnoxious new set of digital and TV ad’s featuring a “bearded spokesdude” (presumably because market research says millennial like beards), Yelp is now alerting customers that they too can base the most important decision of their professional life based off of what hitlerkush69 said about a law school’s cafeteria.
To make matters worse, even Yelp’s ads reinforce the “law school scam” economic theory:
Let’s say you’re hungry for justice, want to study to become a lawyer and don’t mind paying off hundreds of thousands of dollars of student loans. We know just the place.”
HARHARHAR starving lawyers are hilarious, guy who works while sitting on a custom made bosi ball inside a converted Mission loft.
But the weirdness of these ads doesn’t end with patronizing insert-a-hipster. Inherent in this promotion is the fact that Yelp felt it necessary to highlight reviews that have existed on their site since 2008 as a “new” service. And while appropriating someone else’s seven-year-old work product for profit is par for course in our glorious era of late stage capitalism, the media attention from Above the Law and the ABA Journal was decidedly uncritical in their analysis of Yelp’s motives in entering the academia industrial complex.
It’s bad enough that Yelp, a site that was built on aggregating the intellectual property of amateur (and unpaid) restaurant reviewers, is an appropriate resource for people to research institutions as complex and multi-faceted as a law school. But Yelp has also a very curious history of engaging in practices that border on outright extortion by threatening to bury business in negative reviews that refuse to pay Yelp hush money. Given that aspiring lawyers are now going to use this service to make a six-figure investment, maybe it would have been a good idea to mention that Yelp has more or less legalized what looks and smells like an online protection racket.
Vulture capitalists, like the folks behind Yelp, are always going to wrongly assume that their business model is suited for any and all purposes, regardless of any evidence or common sense to the contrary. Media sources (especially genre-specific ones like the one you are reading right now) have a responsibility to provide a bare minimum of critical analysis to these awful decisions, instead of just blindly reposting press releases from the aforementioned business douchebags. Our vocation is at risk of being de-legitimatized by a society that falsely believes that amateurs can effectively manage complex and consequential legal issues. Buying into this narrative by giving Yelp a pass on bullshit like this is a huge disservice to our legal profession as a whole.