Here’s a quick, incomplete, and less-than-glorious timeline of the Kardashian family:
In 2011, Barbara Walters interviewed the mom and three of the eldest daughters – Kim, Kourtney, and Khloe – and made the now-infamous and just about forgotten remark: “You don’t really act, you can’t sing, you don’t dance. You don’t have – forgive me – any talent.”
In 2014, to Kim’s comment that she wanted a smaller behind, Kourtney Kardashian’s partner, Scott, tellingly stated, “You guys are famous for big butts. You guys lose your butts we may all lose our money.”
In 2015, The kylie Jenner “Lip Challenge” was all the rage, prompting much controversy.
Then at one time or another the Kardashians made headlines for clothing lines, beauty products, phone apps, fashion and model shoots gracing magazines, boyfriend drama, divorces, Bruce Jenner coming out as trans woman, a nude selfie, robbery at gunpoint, a cheating scandal, and more.
If that weren’t enough, a few months ago Kylie Jenner grabbed headlines for becoming the world’s youngest female billionaire
No other family has garnered as much attention, criticism, and ridicule than the Kardashian clan. A recent article published on site Medium rightly termed the Kardashian sisters the “Queens of Social Media and Marketing.”
Given the family’s wide ranging publicity and notoriety, I have to admit that in hearing about Kim’s recent decision to pursue a “career” as a lawyer I viewed it simply as her latest marketing ploy.
Thoughts On Announcement and Media Coverage
Her decision to become a lawyer comes on the heels of her highly publicized involvement with lobbying the President to give clemency to Alice Marie Johnson, a 63-year-old woman serving life in prison for drug offenses committed in the early 1990’s.
In a recent interview with Van Jones of CNN, who introduced her to California-based attorneys doing prison reform legal work and who are serving as her mentors/tutors during her “reading of the law,” she stated that she had “no idea on how broken the system is.” She went to say that by “knowing more about the system I can do more for the system.”
What’s interesting about her decision is that she is not going through the traditional route of attending three years of law school to become a lawyer. Following the tradition of the likes of Abe Lincoln and other historical notable political figures, she will be apprenticing with the Oakland, California-based prison reform organization, #cut50.
According to a recent CNBC article, she will be “participating in the California Law Office or Judge’s Chamber Program, which requires applicants to complete a form giving “Notice of Intent to Study in a Law Office or Judge’s Chambers ” and pay an initial fee of $158, as well as additional paperwork and $105 fees to be submitted every six months throughout the program.”
With guidance from her two supervising attorneys she will apprentice for four years. Since July, she has completed the required 18 hours a week of required study. This commitment is, of course, on top of her super busy public, business, and family life. And according to her, the apprenticeship route to becoming a lawyer is no less demanding and stressful: she is using the same textbooks, taking the same assignments and tests as students going through the traditional route.
With that said, her highly publicized decision says a ton about the state of modern education, certification, social and class privilege, celebrity obsession and worship, among other things. Granted, it is not all bad. I break down the good, bad, and the ugly.
The Good: She Can be a Face for Reforming Education and Certification More Broadly
I have to admit that I developed a newfound respect for Kim Kardashian in hearing her speak to Van Jones and calling out the infamous “system.” Now, of course, she didn’t define the system–that would have taken too long–but I think we all know when we hear the word “system,” what comes to mind are people who benefit and people who lose.
With all the connections that she has, Kim could have easily pursued the far more lucrative field of entertainment law. She wasn’t shy about pointing this out and I’ll give her that. To get involved with criminal justice reform says, if nothing else, that she wants to help.
She even stated that the legal education route she is taking is not a short-cut. Instead, as she pointed out, she is taking advantage of a model that historically made a legal education “accessible” to those “who do not have the means.” Bingo.
Now I’m no historian or scholar on the matter but apprenticeships did historically make up a good portion of job training in America. This was certainly the standard back in the days of Lincoln. Just how the American Bar Association and the university system created an environment where sky-high tuition, untold amounts of debt, and limited job opportunities became the norm is a study in and of itself.
In fact, the legal profession itself, according to author Steven Harper, has reached a point of “crisis.” His book, The Lawyer Bubble, provides a “devastating indictment of the greed, shortsightedness, and dishonesty that now permeate the legal profession.” Law professor and author Bryan Tamanaha, in his work, Failing Law Schools, indicts the ABA’s monopoly over legal education, the broken economic model of law schools, among many other things.
In a socio-economic environment where the price of privilege – access to legal education, medical school, private boarding schools, among others – gets to the point where it is virtually impossible for the working poor middle class to afford, the top percent of income earners–no doubt controlling these very institutions–completely cements its power, status, and privilege.
When top schools and elite educations become so embedded in the system as the sole avenue to provide, if not completely ensure, power, wealth, and privilege, those with the money and connections to get in will do everything in their power–even if it means cheating and bribing–to secure their place. Everyone else is left outside of the gates.
That Kim Kardashian’s household name has drawn attention to the apprenticeship model of legal education is a win. It is not only the prison system that needs reforming; it is the school system – public and private, undergraduate and professional – that needs some serious reforming. Hopefully, her announcement can be a step in that direction.
“Sharing” Economy Demands Apprenticeship Model of Education
The apprenticeship model of education can challenge educational and economic inequality. A fabulous article I read in the New York Times published in 2014 titled, “The Lawyer’s Apprentice,” provides great insight into not only how this looks but how the modern “sharing economy” demands it.
Speaking about the sharing economy, the future of work, and social entrepreneurship, Janelle Orsi, co-founder of the Sustainable Economies Law Center, a non-profit in Oakland, CA, states that apprenticeships
“are a way to reorder the economics of law school and law work. Without loans to pay back, she argues, lawyers won’t have to chase big paychecks or prestige with corporate clients and could instead work in nonprofit, environmental and community law….The mission is not to create more lawyers; It’s to serve the community.”
I love that phrase, “reorder the economics of law school and law work.” In such a system, freedom, flexibility, diversification, and collaboration can, combined with non-traditional students with varied backgrounds and experiences, reshape the legal world as we know it. Possibilities are virtually endless in the sharing economy.
Legal training can be much more customizable, tailored to specific market needs, without all of the traditional restraints that prevent otherwise qualified students from entering the profession. Emerging technologies reshaping many parts our society and culture will certainly demand changes to curriculums and educational models.
If a high profile social media superstar and product of a super rich, famous and privileged family can “make it” as a lawyer through apprenticing, effectively bypassing the traditional constraints, loads of money, time, and energy, who is to say a truck driver, with enough grit and determination, cannot enter the legal world?
The Bad: Prime Marketing and Sensation-Driven Media, Nothing More?
Kim makes millions and millions yearly. The most she could make as an attorney at a top firm starting out is $160,000+–and that is if she was to put in the insane 70+ hours a week. She’s passionate about and interning in non-profit prison reform work anyway and likely will do something in that field. Clearly, this decision is not a financially-motivated one. So what is the motivation?
This is where the fear that it is all for the cameras comes in. Might it be the latest chapter in her highly publicized chaotic life? She has stated that she owes her career to social media. Outside of that world, is she really capable, professional, and intelligent, the hallmarks of any competent attorney? Who can say one way or the other?
Another question: why should people really care about a super successful, famous, rich and privileged beauty queen deciding to become a lawyer on her own time? CNN and the mainstream press devotes an entire segment on her decision to become a lawyer–the sports equivalent being Lebron deciding to go to Miami– and can even analyze her thoughts, motivations, goals, etc.
The same press–CNN, in this case–can also do a feature “story” on a struggling single mom making just over 6 grand a year by working at McDonald’s but cannot do a critical follow up and ask serious questions about why the young lady is in the predicament to begin with! Although there definitely should be, no real talk about the system’s failures here and what can be done about it.
The Ugly: Another Example of Class Privilege and Rigging the System?
Kim is taking advantage of an opportunity that many people do not have access to: exclusive one on one mentorship from established attorneys, an opportunity that resulted from belonging to a super exclusive social club. Also, while the apprenticeship model is available to the public, it is only available in a handful of states. Given too that the law profession is still the most prestige-driven profession in the country, just how serious is an aspiring lawyer taken after having “graduated” from an apprenticeship education?
Kim likely won’t face any of that. She likely will be able to get any “job” in the legal world so long as it is in her specific field of study. As another example, the way the establishment currently has it, only a handful of Yale and Harvard Law grads get Supreme Court clerkships, opportunities to work in big name firms, etc. While I appreciate her name bringing attention to the apprenticeship model of education and certification, I highly doubt the legal establishment will bring attention to it as an alternative means to enter the lawyer rank in society (Granted, that is not her fault, of course).
Meanwhile, thousands of would-be attorneys, perhaps with much more potential and passion than Kim, are sidelined by LSAT tests, sky high tuition that only grows yearly, lack of economic opportunity, family name recognition, powerful social contacts, and so forth. No real coverage from the press and no serious reform to the legal education model means thousands of students will be prevented from pursuing their “passions” because of the current system.
Just as it is in the case of rich and powerful people, her exclusive contacts have enabled her to influence the White House, and, now, potentially become an attorney as a sort of side hobby. Worst case scenario is Kim gets her education due to her contacts and status; those unknown with a desire to pursue legal studies simply do not.
Will she push for greater reform for others to move up? Or once this passion of hers dries up, will she move onto her next assignment? One thing about the rich and powerful is that, unlike the working classes, they change careers seamlessly. Have you noticed how many politicians are able to move easily between the private and public sectors?
Personally, I don’t consider her legal studies a bonafide accomplishment simply because what she is doing can only be done by .000001% of the population with the time, money, resources, and connections to do it. In all likelihood, given her status, she will be treated with kid gloves. Unlike those attending class and going through the rigors of law school, debating other highly intelligent students, holding one’s own in a socratic debate with a professor, she is merely glamorizing the study of law in typical feel-good TMZ-worthy fashion that furthers her name and fame.
But Before writing Kim off as an overly privileged celebrity obsessed with attention (and I tempted to feel that way) looking for positive PR, I will commend her for her apparent boldness to point out that there is something fundamentally wrong with the current “system.” No other celebrity to my knowledge has made a similar claim. With the exception of a few high profile ones, only a few politicians have made a similar remark. While I can’t seem to shrug off the image of the kid who gets on the team because his dad is the coach, I am hoping that something positive comes of Kim’s decision.