Everyone interested in talking with me about attending law school should read this New York Times article–in addition to all of my posts about law school and legal careers: Is Law School a Losing Game? It states
[A] generation of J.D.’s face the grimmest job market in decades. Since 2008, some 15,000 attorney and legal-staff jobs at large firms have vanished, according to a Northwestern Law study. Associates have been laid off, partners nudged out the door and recruitment programs have been scaled back or eliminated. And with corporations scrutinizing their legal expenses as never before, more entry-level legal work is now outsourced to contract temporary employees, both in the United States and in countries like India. It’s common to hear lawyers fret about the sort of tectonic shift that crushed the domestic steel industry decades ago.
So why do law schools continue to thrive? Creative, “Enron-type accounting standards.” Law schools report 93% of recent grades are employed–which may technically be true, if one counts jobs as baristas and sales clerks. Law schools include such jobs in their post-graduation employment statistics. Similarly misleading, “[m]any schools, even those that have failed to break into the U.S. News top 40, state that the median starting salary of graduates in the private sector is $160,000.” That’s bullshit, to be blunt. It is just not true. The article calls the figure “highly unlikely” noting that Harvard and Yale report the same median salary for their grads. The National Association for Law Placement’s May 2010 employment report states the correct figure for 2009 grads is about $93,000, and even that’s misleading. Starting salaries for new lawyers follow a barbell-shaped distribution–big at the ends, small in the middle–not a bell curve. New lawyers who land insanely-competitive jobs at big firms start at $160,000 a year, while about one-third of 2009 new-lawyer salaries distribute along a mini bell curve between $45-60,000. As I noted in the linked post last July, adjusted for unreported income and for the more complete data at the high end of the scale, the adjusted mean salary for 2009 grads is closer to $85,000.
The post from the Chronicle of Higher Education titled Law Schools: Tournaments or Lotteries? comments critically on the Times article:
Everyone applying to law school takes the same standardized test. Classes are graded on a curve and class rank is relative to other students who took the same classes. It’s not perfect—nothing is—but law school is about as close to a fully transparent pure meritocracy as you’ll find in American education.
One thing all of this means: if you’ve always been a B student, you will likely be no better than a B student in law school, and you will get the jobs available to law students with 3.00 GPS–which do not start anywhere close to $160,000 a year.