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July 11, 2007

Law Students are Spoonfed Sunshine and Lollipops with Inflated Post-Graduation Employment Numbers. Now Read the Truth.

(UPDATE:  7/16/07 Law Schools taken to task for fudged numbers and now U.S. News and World Reports make law schools accountable with new rules.)

Gerry Riskin at Amazing Firms and Amazing Practices recently posted on the 'fabulous' employment rates of law school graduates....a stunning 90% of graduates at the 9 month post-graduation mark...up over 5% from 2000. (Hat tip to Stephanie West Allen over at Idealawg for Gerry's post.)

Well, the old adage goes, 'first there is the lie, then the bigger lie, then statistics.'  In a recent article by the National Law Journal we learn the truth behind the numbers.  And it's not pretty. No mega salaries, no permanent employment.

But the eye-popping salaries are the reality for a small fraction of law school graduates, and all those stories of big money may be creating unrealistic hopes for the vast majority of law school students. Contributing to the situation is the effort by law schools to portray their employment numbers as robustly as possible to boost their ranking scores.
The upshot means dashed expectations for lots of graduates, many of whom are saddled with high debt as they struggle to start their careers.

What is even more startling is the manipulation by the Law schools of these figures.  I knew it was bad as they paid homage to those all important U.S. News and World Reports rankings, but this is pathetic.

But he and many in academia take issue with the way U.S. News & World Report tracks employment information, which may be prompting schools to create an artificially bright employment picture. U.S. News publishes rankings each year of professional schools and graduate schools.

Critics say that not only does the publication's data fail to distinguish the types of jobs that constitute employment, fudging occurs in the "not seeking" category. Schools may too quickly label some graduates as "not seeking" work in order to remove them from the equation.

In addition, several sources interviewed said that they have known schools to hire their own graduates for short-term research assignments in order to boost employment numbers.

"It's amazing how there were schools at 70% [employment] a few years ago that are now at 90%," said Marcelyn Cox, assistant dean of career planning at University of Miami School of Law. "That's just impossible."

And where are those who go solo crammed into the statistics?  After Career Counseling eye-rolling, I would venture to say they are lumped into the 56% who are employed in 'private practice' or the catch-all 'not seeking.'  Too bad we can't see the real numbers broken out properly.  So much more could be done with honest numbers and the students could make responsible decisions with not just their post-graduation odyssey but during their law school career. Whatever happened to the integrity of the academic institution?  Anyone care to enlighten me?

And if you are a law student, start demanding the truth about your school's post-graduation employment numbers.  Find out where students are getting employed.  Find out the real 'average' salaries.  Find out how many are hanging a shingle right out of law school or shortly thereafter.  Find out everything you can so you can make responsible decisions about your future.  Your professional life is yours alone.  Take control of it.  And the first step begins with demanding honest information.


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So, I'm at a Top 20 school somewhere in the median. Should I just kill myself now? This information does nothing but add on to the typical negative attitudes attributed to most attorneys.

What will talking to the CDO do for someone who is three years into the process and over $100K in debt? The negativity in the legal profession is unparalled. It's something to take note of.

Susan Cartier Liebel

Mike, Thank you for your comment. My opinion is not meant to dishearten. However, what is disheartening is being misled by those who are supposed to be telling you the realities so you can make informed decisions. If you know the likelihood of your first year job opportunities and salary going out...wouldn't you make better decisions about your personal finances, your practice area choices, look at multiple options to gain meaningful experience? And in law school wouldn't you maybe make different course selections, choose your internships with more thought? This is not meant to dissuade you from your chosen profession. But IMHO the schools have an obligation to their paying clients first, you. No one said landing a job was going to be easy...but better to know the realities so you can fashion the right game plan for your future. I hope this offers some clarity.

Loyola 2L

Thank you so much for drawing attention to this problem. Hopefully, if people get the message out, they can prevent naive 0Ls from experiencing the crushing debt and hopeless career options which are my life.

Here is an actual job recently listed on Loyola's job board. Yes you read correctly, it pays minimum wage. Yes, this is a job, as an attorney, which pays the same as that earned by new immigrants who can't speak english. If charging $36,000 for this degree isn't a fraud then I don't know what is.

Loyola 2L


More about Employer: Law Offices of
Contact Name: XXX
Address: XXX
City: Beverly Hills, CA 90212
Telephone: 310-XXX
Facsimile: 310-XXX
E-Mail: XXX
Description: HOURS: Part-time. DURATION: Permanent. SALARY: Minimum wage. STUDENT LEVEL: 1L, 2L, 3L, Grads awaiting results, Grads admitted to bar. QUALIFICATIONS: Excellent analytical and organizational skills required. JOB DESCRIPTION: NO EXPERIENCE NECESSARY! A young, aggressive Beverly Hills litigation Entertainment Law Firm seeks law students (any year) to work at least 25+ hours per week. You will, act as a law clerk, perform administrative duties (answer client phone calls, etc.), and assist in all phases of general substantive civil litigation (i.e. filing law suits, etc.). The Law Firm also does litigation in the following areas: Business, Corporate, Real Estate, Employment, and Personal Injury litigation (see our website at XXX for details). This is a great opportunity to possibly continue on as an attorney with the law firm upon Bar passage, gain useful hands on legal and law firm management skills to start your own practice that can not be gained at a large law firm, gain experience to possibly get a large law firm six figure job that requires prior work experience, and build your resume in general. This is also a great opportunity to learn how the rainmakers generate business and turn a profit. You will be assigned cases and supervised. You may directly observe the Senior Attorney. You may obtain a letter of recommendation upon satisfactory completion of the job. HOW TO APPLY: Fax resume to XXX

Susan Cartier Liebel

Loyola 2L, You are right. Students don't see these types of jobs being posted. My intent is not to dissuade those who want to be in law school. But you HAVE to work with the truth, not fabrications based upon the law school's agenda. Their agenda is also driven by maintainence of their facility. If the real information comes out one might think twice about attending law school (applications by women are decreasing) and so how do you boost your admissions? Bragging rights about high paying jobs and inflated placement percentages. And...another little secret...reducing the incoming class size, bringing up the LSAT scores and giving the illusion of exclusivity. Thanks for the job posting...WOW.

Joshua Paulin

Loyola 2l: as an immigration lawyer, I can tell you that some of those immigrants make enough to buy their own houses and put away a good chunk of change-- because they start their own businesses! Something to think about in the future... btw, I'm thinking of one undocumented immigrant I know who has her own business and is doing really well -- and has a law degree in her own country! I don't know whether that's inspiring or depressing:)

Kristen Garlans

I was speaking to my career services office the other day, and they mentioned that they count just about anything as employed - they've even counted people who couldn't find a job and ended up working at Starbucks. I wish I'd known that before I spent so much money to go there! Maybe the lower-ranked school that offered a full scholarship would have been a better choice after all...

Steven M. Warshawsky

I agree that providing dishonest employment figures to ranking sources like US News is unethical and misleading.

BUT . . . given the enormous amount of money that a legal education costs these days, one would expect prospective law students to take some measure of responsibility for their own life/career/financial planning. It's really not that hard to find out who actually gets hired for the plumb jobs and who doesn't.

With very rare exceptions, people going to law school are adults, with college and/or work experience under their belts. They should be able to evaluate, realistically, where they fall on the academic/intellectual ladder, what their likely job prospects will be, and whether the cost of getting a JD from school X will be justified by the expected return.

Frankly, if a prospective law student didn't graduate near the top of a "good" or "prestigious" college, or at the top of a "mediocre" college, then it is not rational to presume that he/she will graduate near the top of their law school, and be able to land a high-paying, big firm job. It might happen, sure. But it's unlikely. Past performance is a rather good predicter of future performance. This means that most law students, who are not academic superstars or "really good test takers," should have much more modest employment expectations, and budget for law school accordingly. Many law students seem not to think twice about going into debt to the tune of $100,000 or more. Yet they wouldn't go into that kind of debt for any other reason (one hopes). This is just being irresponsible.

Personally, I think the biggest problem facing law students is that . . . it is too easy to go to law school. All it takes is a college degree and an LSAT score. There is a law school out there for almost anyone (even those without college degrees). As a result, I believe a large number, perhaps a majority, of people who decide to go to law school truly have no idea about, interest in, or aptitude for the kind of work that makes up the actual day to day life of a lawyer. The result is dissatisfaction and burnout.

Compare this to medical students, who must complete a rigorous undergraduate science curriculum, and also spend time working (volunteering) in hospitals and clinics, before they will even be given a chance to get into med school (which is no sure thing). Clearly, med students have a much better idea what they are getting into -- and have proven their mettle for several years before entering med school.

The typical path to law school couldn't be more different. The result, I think, is a significant mis-match between people going into law and what the field truly is like. I am convinced that many people in law school would be much better off pursuing other lines of work.

Susan Cartier Liebel

Steve, your comment is very well considered and you bring up many valid points. My greatest issue with this is not the realities of what you say. It is unequivocally the responsibility of the law school to provide accurate and honest information information within the equation you pose. How can one do a proper cost/benefit analysis if the benefit from the academic institution is fudged? How can one who is given misleading statistics prior to making the decision, which is also reflected in the rankings published by U.S. News and World Reports, get the truth to decide? It's unfair to say they should know...from where? Even the most diligent pre-law student will rely upon this information when making a decision. When you read job placement is 90% only later to learn it includes all jobs, even Starbucks that's just fraud? The school has responsibilities. If they satisfy their responsibilities to the students, then, yes, your other well considered points must be addressed by the prospective student.


So in terms of "better practice area choices", how do we find out which areas are more lucrative and also somewhat fulfilling? How does that differ depending on whether you go to a firm or go solo? I make around $60k as a legal secretary with a background in appellate, telecom and corporate law and I'm in law school at night. I would love to practice immigration law (I'm an immigrant, am married to one, and am passionate about the area of law, etc.) or labor & employment, but I have absolutely no experience in those areas. With a mortgage and a child, I have to keep working full-time at a very high hourly rate during school and I have no idea how to a) gain practical experience in this area or b) tailor my classes/any clinical work to this area. Perhaps ultimately I should be choosing a "better" practice area? I am trying to meet with at least one local solo immigration attorney to get her take on things but without bottom line numbers from my career center, it's very hard to go into this with a clear picture of whether or not I'll graduate making less than I make now. These recent articles are scary.

Susan Cartier Liebel

PT Law Mom...you are already an inspiration to me! And absolutely honor your financial obligations first or nothing else really matters. However, that being said, given demographic trends and economic conditions, immigration is an excellent area to get into plus being an immigrant yourself you lend credibility and passion to your practice area. During law school, here are a few suggestions, absorb everything on the internet as given free from solo practitioners practicing immigration law because they are producing high quality education based marketing blogs meant to educate the consumer (and also new lawyers!). You might already be doing this. Then here is a suggestion, one you might be able to finesse. If you are willing or able to take your vacation as a working one...it's always about choices....line up an attorney willing to let you 'shadow' him/her for a busy week in their immigration law office. Create your own intense boot-camp style internship/externship that you don't have to pay the law school for. You have no idea how this will benefit you in the future. But this will enable you to get some hands on (even if just a short duration) experience seeing how it works. Plus, you bring a 'community' of potential business with you to any solo/small firm smart enough to recognize this and you should be parlaying that 'business' when discussing a one week internship...for future paid employment or association. Just some 'off the top of my head' thoughts on your particular situation.


Thanks - this is very helpful!

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