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September 23, 2007

Law School Not A Ticket To Printing Money

Here is a very sobering article from the Wall Street Journal's Emir Efrati which finally exposes through real numbers that law school graduates are not getting the promised jobs, the six-figure incomes or the professional prestige once associated with law school.  Law school is a low cost, high-return money maker for universities and they are luring students in with promises and not delivering the goods..except for the top few at the top tier schools. 

On the supply end, more lawyers are entering the work force, thanks in part to the accreditation of new law schools and an influx of applicants after the dot-com implosion earlier this decade. In the 2005-06 academic year, 43,883 Juris Doctor degrees were awarded, up from 37,909 for 2001-02, according to the American Bar Association. Universities are starting up more law schools in part for prestige but also because they are money makers. Costs are low compared with other graduate schools and classrooms can be large. Since 1995, the number of ABA-accredited schools increased by 11%, to 196.

Evidence of a squeezed market among the majority of private lawyers in the U.S., who work as sole practitioners or at small firms, is growing. A survey of about 650 Chicago lawyers published in the 2005 book "Urban Lawyers" found that between 1975 and 1995 the inflation-adjusted average income of the top 25% of earners, generally big-firm lawyers, grew by 22% -- while income for the other 75% actually dropped.

According to the Internal Revenue Service, the inflation-adjusted average income of sole practitioners has been flat since the mid-1980s. A recent survey showed that out of nearly 600 lawyers at firms of 10 lawyers or fewer in Indiana, wages for the majority only kept pace with inflation or dropped in real terms over the past five years.

So, the reality not mentioned is the schools are not offering the necessary business training required to utilize the degree earned for entrepreneurship as a realistic alternative to unfulfilled promises of BigLaw jobs.  Yet they are opening their doors to more students looking to better themselves, their lives and who are willing to take on astronomical debt because they believe opportunities exist.

Yet economic data suggest that prospects have grown bleaker for all but the top students, and now a number of law-school professors are calling for the distribution of more-accurate employment information. Incoming students are "mesmerized by what's happening in big firms, but clueless about what's going on in the bottom half of the profession," says Richard Sander, a law professor at the University of California-Los Angeles who has studied the legal job market.

"Prospective students need solid comparative data on employment outcomes, [but] very few law schools provide such data," adds Andrew Morriss, a law professor at the University of Illinois who has studied the market for new lawyers.

Students entering law school have little way of knowing how tight a job market they might face. The only employment data that many prospective students see comes from school-promoted surveys that provide a far-from-complete portrait of graduate experiences.

There is always the argument students should be doing their own homework but as I've argued before they are relying on the integrity of the law schools to provide information that is accurate. Is including a job at Starbucks fair information for law schools to include in 'employment numbers.'  Is it any wonder the information isn't accurate?  Doesn't look too good for the law schools now, does it?

And the NALP concedes it cannot vouch for the accuracy of the information it collects:

Academics who have studied new-lawyer salaries say that the graduate surveys of many law schools are skewed by higher response rates from the most successful students. The National Association for Law Placement, which aggregates and publishes national data based on those surveys, concedes that it can't vouch for their accuracy. "We can't validate the figures; we have to rely on schools to report to us accurately," says Judy Collins, NALP's director of research.

But solos, as indicated in this article, are keeping up with inflation for the most part.  Imagine if their law schools gave them the information they needed to be entrepreneurs right from the start?  They could start marketing this very real option to their students and not be deceptive in the slightest.

Additional Reading:

Can We Turn Law School Education on It's Ear? The Randazza Manifesto

Law Students Being Fed Sunshine and Lollipops


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The economic statistics of the legal market described in the Wall Street Journal article Hard Case: Job Market Wanes for U.S. Lawyers by Amir Efrati shouldn't really come as a suprise, but it is a good reminder for law students [Read More]


Chuck Newton

Now you tell me.


A few months ago I read a blurb about the application numbers being down at law schools, and what this article states is very different from that. Both could be true, but the fact that we are discusing it here emphasizes that we should be in (be entering) the legal profession for our own reasons beyond money. Of course having the resources to take good care of one's family and to be generous and charitable is as good a reason as any, but money is not a good stand-alone reason to go to law school.
I'll not fail to mention here that law school is fun. Sometimes (in fact most times) the fun lasts and lasts half the night into and weekend, but it really is a lot of fun to learn so much at once. Hopefully the profession will expose me to a variety of interesting problems and a chance to have regular contact with just a few people who are as bright, energetic and devoted as the people I have met here in law school. That and a chance to make a reasonable living for the effort are really all one can ask of a profession.

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