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 associates 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.
Lock the Law School Doors argues in favor of reining in law school admissions:
As firms begin an industrywide overhaul, which has entailed slashing jobs and reconsidering hidebound inefficiencies like the lockstep salary, students will compete for half as many $160,000-a-year jobs this year as they did last. According to the National Association for Legal Career Professionals, the 2008 recruiting season marked “what is likely to be the beginning of a weaker legal employment market that may last for a number of years.” Meanwhile, as job opportunities abate, law school matriculation rates rise unchecked.
The article takes issue with three lower-ranked New York area law schools that claim “45 to 60 percent of their 2008 graduates who reported salary information are making a median salary of $150,000 to $160,000.” The key to the school’s claim is who reported salary information. What percentage of the graduating class is that? How many of those who graduated into $45,000/year jobs want to report that fact to their law school? The idea that such jobs await about half of those who graduate from law school is ludicrous. The reality is that only the biggest firms pay those salaries, in the best of markets the biggest firms only hired from the cream of each year’s graduates–the top few percent, at most, from schools out of the top tier–and in this market they have significantly cut back on the number of new associates. If you think such a job awaits you after law school take a cold shower, read the article, and talk to some recent graduates.
In response to my standard “any questions” query a student today asked “What is trudalane?” Fair question. I spend a good part of the summer and occasional weekends the rest of the year in Otisfield, Maine, which produces little news of more than local attention. My Google alert for Otisfield generates a trickle of articles, most about Seeds of Peace. The bass poaching story–which did not involve whole fish cooked in parchment–was special, but Otisfield generally flies under news radar.
Not always, though. Otisfield has one mailbox, located in front of the town offices. The Postal Service planned to remove the box because of its volume is below the 25 letters per day benchmark. Otisfield protested. The next nearest box is miles away and losing Otisfield’s sole mailbox would be an indignity. The town already lacks a zip code, free-riding on Oxford’s. Take away the mailbox and what’s left? No center stripe on town roads? The town protested. Otisfield parked a backhoe and other road-maintenance equipment around the box to block the Postal Service’s removal team and mounted a public relations David-versus-Goliath campaign. National media picked up the story-it wasn’t quite as hot as Jon versus Kate but Hey! It’s a mailbox!**–and the Postal Service backed down. The box was saved, to serve the residents who mail six items each day.
That’s Truda Lane.
*With apologies to George Pope Morris.
**A Google search for <otisfield mailbox> produced 2,040 hits.
A half-dozen students gasped upon hearing the 550-page length of the Internet Law Casebook. (Actually it is 524 pages, plus 23 pages of course overview, syllabus, assignments, and other good stuff.) I heard more groans today when they picked up hard copies of the book. The good news? The books–photocopies of my work-in-process draft–cost $22.58 each. Cost per word, it’s the best deal around.
The Casebook has defined the start of the 2009-2010 academic year. I rebuilt the Internet law course this summer, throwing out everything and starting from the ground up. Five weeks ago I began revising the existing Casebook, a raggedy draft with chapters for about half the course. As I wrote introductions and case transitions for the first chapters, a standard began to develop, a level of detail that established a minimum for succeeding chapters. What I thought would take seven-ten days stretched into three weeks, four weeks, five weeks. I blew past the deadline for submitting it to the school’s copy center in early August. I missed completing it before classes began on September 3. I worked all of Labor Day weekend. After completing the chapter on sharing digital media I turned to the chapter on the DMCA. First, though, I checked the calendar. The finished chapters filled the scheduled class sessions. I was done!
More than done is more likely. I was very conscious of each chapter’s length and kept reading assignments under 25 pages (except a few). I am aware, acutely so, that the reading will challenge most students, particularly in the first month as they climb the learning curve. This is a law school course in an undergraduate program. I want to push my students without losing them. I think the materials strike the right balance. Most of the cases have a good hook, factual, legal, or both, to hold their interest. The first run through this iteration of the Casebook will test how well I’ve gauged their response. This is as good a group of students as I could hope to find the answers.
A Foolish Consistency is three years old today. 588 posts overs 1,095 days, or one post about every 44 hours. 863 comments, 566 tags.
If you are thinking about gifts, three years is the leather anniversary.