Be Real

Recently a blog reader suggested, after reading Considering Law School?, that I am down on law school.  I’ve thought about her observation quite a bit.  I don’t think my thoughts about becoming a lawyer have changed much in the past decade.  Are recent posts about law as a career choice more critical than my posts of a few years ago?  I’ve counseled caution before the recent bear legal market.  Don’t Go To Law School, The Purpose of Law School II, and Thinking of Law School? Read This have a similar message, which is that many law grads earn salaries that barely cover–or fail to cover–student loan payments.  (Click here for links to all of my law-school related posts.)  I am not singing a new tune.

Still, as the legal job market deteriorated over the past year my advice became more pointed.  There are far fewer jobs for new lawyers today than there were twelve months ago.   Starting salaries are less than they were a year ago.  A friend who graduated this year from BU Law was hired by one of Boston’s best firms as a first-year associate with an expected salary of $160,000, to start this September.  The firm wrote last week to confirm that the incoming class will start work in January 2010, not a major delay under current conditions.  Her salary is still up in the air.  Somehow, as if my magic, the major Boston firms will all decide independently to pay incoming the same as-yet-undetermined amount.  Whatever she it is, her salary will be at the top end of the market.  She’s in the minority.  She earned top grades in college and law school, worked incredibly hard, and had to pay her dues to land a big firm job.

Most of the prospective law students I advise are interested in corporate or business law.  Many express their interest in working at large, national corporate firms.  Others possess the interest but are more circumspect about expressing it.  Most are unlikely to get there.  Being a lifelong B+ student does not mean you won’t have a satisfying and successful legal career, but it does mean your chances of landing a job at any of the top 100 firms in the country are miniscule.

Be realistic.  Do not define success by whether you (or anyone else) lands a big-firm job.

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  • Livy Amchin

    What John is saying is exactly what you discussed in your last post, "Considering Law School?" It is very likely that only those who are receiving considerably high salaries are the ones reporting these numbers. At the same time, the law schools probably would not choose to publish information about graduating salaries if the data did not reflect well on their program. It really depends who is contributing to the data when they report these statistics.

  • John

    Even as a current law student, I agree with your statements. Prospective law students also need to be wary of the "reported graduating salary" statistics. Just because the reported average graduating salary is 80-90k a year, does not necessarily mean that is the actual average for the class. The numbers are "reported" average salaries for a reason. Most graduates making $35,000 a year after burying themselves in debt probably don't feel all that great about reporting that salary to their former law school…I sure know that I wouldn't.

  • JesseR

    As a caveat, it can only help your career prospects to learn popular business languages (French and/or German, especially). Also, according to "Above The Law" (http://abovethelaw.com/2009/09/the_asia_chronicle… many international firms' Asia offices are doing quite well considering the economy, so Chinese or Japanese may also be helpful.

  • David Randall

    I don't think demand for international law expertise will pick up the slack. There have tens of thousands of layoffs and whatever increased demand exists for international law will develop slowly as the economy improves and the pace of deal-making picks up.

  • lsr217

    Do you think there will be an increase in the demand for students studying international law and if so do you think it will help make up for the decrease in conventional business law positions?