Not Covered By LSAT Prep

My stack of to-be-written school recommendations makes this Wall Street Journal headline especially timely: Hard Case: Job Market Wanes for U.S. Lawyers (Amir Efrati, The Wall Street Journal, 24-Sep-07 Page A1 Subscription Required). The story in a nutshell:

[T]he majority of law-school graduates are suffering from a supply-and-demand imbalance that’s suppressing pay and job growth. The result: Graduates who don’t score at the top of their class are struggling to find well-paying jobs to make payments on law-school debts that can exceed $100,000. Some are temporary contract work, reviewing documents for as little as $20 an hour, without benefits.

The article cites an increase in the number of lawyers–43,833 J.D.s granted during the 2005-2006 , compared to 37,909 granted 2001-2002–, slack demand, and decline in practice areas such as personal injury and medical malpractice. According to the IRS “the inflation-adjusted average income of sole practitioners has been flat since the mid-1980s.” The result is a huge gap between those graduates who snag Big Law jobs paying upwards of $160,000 year and everyone else. Graduates are squeezed to pay back law-school tuition loans; according to the ABA “[g]raduates in 2006 of public and private law schools had borrowed an average of $54,509 and $83,181, up 17% and 18.6%, respectively, from the amount borrowed by 2002 graduates.”

I can empathize with the disappointment these folks face but a law degree has never been a guaranteed ticket to fortune. The article notes that many of these folks “are blaming their law schools for failing to warn them about the dark side of the job market.” Please. A law school isn’t your mommy or daddy. If you can’t assess and accept the risks of spending three years and $150,000 to earn a law degree there is a simple and cheap two-word solution: Don’t Go.

If any of the prospective law students waiting on my recommendations are reconsidering their career choices, my door is always open. And for those of you taking the LSAT this Saturday–sorry for the timing. It’s not too late to decide to spend 9/29 at the beach.

 

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  • http://www.maclawstudents.com Erik Schmidt

    You wrote: “I can empathize with the disappointment these folks face but a law degree has never been a guaranteed ticket to fortune.”

    I think everyone is agreement on that point, and you’re correct in noting that students who feel betrayed by their law schools are barking up the wrong tree.

    However, the real problem isn’t that students can’t “make a fortune,” it’s that they can’t make a salary that can pay back their loans. I submit that a huge percentage of law students aren’t interested in becoming rich. Is a profession that eats its young really in good health?

    You also write: “If you can’t assess and accept the risks of spending three years and $150,000 to earn a law degree there is a simple and cheap two-word solution: Don’t Go.”

    I respectfully submit that such a statement may be easier to make in retrospect than prospectively. According to your bio, you graduated in 1981.

    N. William Hines notes in his article: Ten Major Changes in Legal Education Over the Past 25 Years:

    “In 1980 obtaining a legal education was not particularly expensive compared to other types of graduate-level training, and law tuitions were not appreciably higher than tuitions charged undergraduates or candidates for masters degrees. As a result, most law students graduated from law school with little or no debt. Over the past 25 years the costs of providing a quality legal education have escalated much more rapidly than average wages and general inflation, and law tuitions have climbed even faster.”

    In the current job market, where a bachelor’s degree doesn’t mean what it used to, the pressure to obtain an advanced degree is stronger than ever. The fact that law school has become such a risky proposition says as much about the legal profession as it does about law students.