The Law School Game

From time to time readers accuse me of being too negative about law school.  They exaggerate.  I do not espouse a blanket “don’t go to law school” line.  Law can open interesting and rewarding career paths, provide intellectual stimulation, and enable a comfortable lifestyle.  The key word in the previous sentence is “can.”  I did not write “law will open . . .”  Over the past decade increase in the number of lawyers, outsourcing of legal jobs, technology, and the recession have all changed the economics of law practice. Prospective lawyers must weigh the cost of law school with the benefits they can reasonably attain.  The number of recent law grads who attain annual salaries greater than $150k is small.  The number of recent law grads of lower-ranked schools who attain such annual salaries is minuscule.  The number of law grads who struggle to repay law school loans is alarming.  The number of disenchanted lawyers whose mantra is “don’t go to law school” is discouraging.

Am I being too negative?

Prospective law students must add this New York Times article to their due diligence:  Law School Economics: Ka-Ching!   Some excerpts:

WITH apologies to show business, there’s no business like the business of law school. The basic rules of a market economy — even golden oldies, like a link between supply and demand — just don’t apply. Legal diplomas have such allure that law schools have been able to jack up tuition four times faster than the soaring cost of college. And many law schools have added students to their incoming classes — a step that, for them, means almost pure profits — even during the worst recession in the legal profession’s history.

The article focuses on “the strange case of New York Law School and its dean, Richard A. Matasar.”

For more than a decade, Mr. Matasar has been one of the legal academy’s most dogged and scolding critics, and he has repeatedly urged professors and fellow deans to rethink the basics of the law school business model and put the interests of students first . . . Given his scathing critiques, you might expect that during Mr. Matasar’s 11 years as dean, he has reshaped New York Law School to conform with his reformist agenda. But he hasn’t. Instead, the school seems to be benefitting from many of legal education’s assorted perversities. 

N.Y.L.S. is ranked in the bottom third of all law schools in the country, but with tuition and fees now set at $47,800 a year, it charges more than Harvard. It increased the size of the class that arrived in the fall of 2009 by an astounding 30 percent, even as hiring in the legal profession imploded. It reported in the most recent US News & World Report rankings that the median starting salary of its graduates was the same as for those of the best schools in the nation — even though most of its graduates, in fact, find work at less than half that amount.

It doesn’t get better.

4 thoughts on “The Law School Game”

  1. Hi professor,

    Just got into law school in Russia! I guess I’ll have to wait and see, if this “curve ball” (going to law school in Russia vs getting a legal education in the US) will give me a chance to beat the statistics that you have listed above.

    – Ivan Kovganov

    1. Congratulations! I’m curious to hear about your experience there and to compare the differences between U.S. and Russian law school. I guess this means you won’t always be lurking–I mean waiting–whenever I turn a corner.

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