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March 03, 2013

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Previously Anon

You seem to be making a lot of assumptions about the academic success (or lack of it) of those criticizing law schools. Personally, I was a cum laude graduate of a top 25 law school (I am employed, for what it's worth). I can provide many anecdotes of students from my class (2011) from my law school and many others that can counter your single positive anecdate. Statistical evidence makes the state of the legal job market fairly clear. Although some small amount of graduates that do not obtain legal employment may obtain employment that provides sufficient value to justify the cost of the law degree, it is unlikely to do so for most of them. Even among those who do obtain legal employment, the quality of that legal employment is often fairly dire. As long as we're exchanging anecdotal evidence, I'll mention the student in the top 15% of my class who is now making $30,000 as an associate (I know, because I applied for the same position). I'll also mention the student in the top half of my class who, last I knew (August 2012), was attempting to find retail work for the holidays because document review places would not call him back.

Frankly, your insinuation that those who are not employed in sufficiently profitable employment are simply not trying hard enough is rather insulting. I'm glad you struck it lucky, but your experience is in no way indicative of what others may experience.

Lance Williams

Previously Anon, I was not trying to insult anyone with my post. In fact, I was trying to encourage those that are still seeking employment to think outside the box. I spoke about lack of law school success because that was my situation, and I feel that was a factor in my failure to obtain legal employment. Lets face it, why hire the "B/C" student when the "A" student is available? It is a tough economy right now even for those that have graduated at the top of the class. Maybe I did get "Lucky", but I would like to think it was more than luck. Rather, I created an alternative plan to make the best out of what I have. Regardless, I wish you and those still searching for their path the most of success. Lance.

Barry

Tamara: "If you have good scores, you get a fair amount of financial aid you go to a moderately priced school, this can still be the right decision. "

The problem is that the employment and salary figures get worse as one goes down the scale of law schools. I've been a regular reader of ITLS, and have seen enough figures to know that the probability of being able to pay off your loans is very low for middling law schools (probably down around 25%).

Barry

Lance Williams, your story boils down to that you borrowed a lot of money which you were only able to pay off because you got a $100K/year job outside of your profession (which, of course, later became your profession).

Under the assumption that $100K jobs are not just lying around, your story is rather one of great good luck.

Forgotten Attorney

At the very least, lawprofs should tell potential law students that law school is not:

A guarantee of getting rich soon (or later).
A "versatile" degree.
A device for obtaining "prestige".

I also get it that some people have dreamed of being a lawyer all their lives. But what does that mean? And are they telling the truth? And will the threat of spending years looking for jobs with burdensome student loan payments that may never be paid make them reconsider their dreams? Is this something that lawprofs and lawadmins would be willing to investigate? I think asking these questions will be difficult as enrollment numbers eventually decline.

Tamara Piety

@ Forgotten. I am sure I have never told anyone that law school is a guarantee of anything. I DO try, to the best of my ability, to give folks all the info. Part of that info is that *sometimes* for *some people* a law degree is a gateway to ambitions that aren't practicing law per se - like running for office or running a company. And it is definitely a prerequisite for practicing law if that is your ambition. I also try to be clear about what practice is like, particularly in litigation where you can't control your time. Also,this is a dynamic, rapidly changing environment and so some of the advice of even 5 years ago, no longer seems as valid as it once was. But the point of the original post is that no matter how transparent, how earnest, how fully we try to lay out all the information to potential students, there is a level at which it often doesn't resonate until you've done it, at which point it may be hard (not impossible, but hard) to change course. And that too is something people should consider although I am not sure that it does anything but make the decision harder. I think back in the good old days (or bad old days, depending on one's perspective) a fair number of people pursued a law degree for what were (even then) "bad" reasons. I wanted in this post to underscore that those reasons are, if anything, even worse reasons today, but that there is an aspect of the decision that is simply unknowable in advance. So we can say that they only people who should go to law school are those who really want to be lawyers, yet it is predictable that even within this group who are convinced that this is their goal, some will find once they do it that it not what they hoped. Still, for *some* people law school is still the right choice. I cannot speak for legal education as a whole. And in my blogging here I am not even speaking *for* TU, but merely as a member of the faculty. But I can tell you we are not a for-profit institution. Whatever may be the case at some places, it is not the case here that the law school is in any way a "cash cow" for the university. Quite the reverse. We have zero interest in seeing any of out students regret that they went to law school or have an unhappy experience. We are small and deliberately so. There are, however, many variables we don't control. I was delighted to hear from Mr. Williams (in one of the earlier comments) that he had a happy outcome and is glad he got a law degree. But as others point out, one story isn't a trend. We hope that it is representative. Our investigations suggest that it is *more* representative than perhaps the national press coverage of legal education or of the averages employment outcomes would suggest. But it is hard to know for sure and this data is tough to get. We have few devices for ensuring reporting from grads or getting the relevant information. Anecdotes aren't necessarily good predictors for any individual's outcome, but they aren't nothing either, just like the averages are also imperfect predictors about what any one individual's experience will be. And I can assure you that we are doing our best to try to learn as much as we can about the outcomes for our students and act accordingly. We *want* people to be happy with their choice.

john

>>Tamara: "If you have good scores, you get a fair amount of financial aid you go to a moderately priced school, this can still be the right decision. "

>Barry: The problem is that the employment and salary figures get worse as one goes down the scale of law schools. I've been a regular reader of ITLS, and have seen enough figures to know that the probability of being able to pay off your loans is very low for middling law schools (probably down around 25%).

I think this is an important point. Getting into Yale at sticker and taking the money at Virginia is one thing, but that doesn't apply to too many people. The more common scenario is the person who gets into a top-20 at sticker and opts for the scholarship at a top-50 or a second tier regional. This person is taking a pretty big risk of never becoming a lawyer. And as Barry said, it just gets worse the farther down the rankings this scenario plays out.

BoredJD

I have to disagree with the above commenters. As LST pointed out, the "% employed as lawyers" statistic remains relatively constant around 50% starting at around USNWR rank 25 (and some of those schools are puffing their figures with school funded jobs):

http://www.lstscorereports.com/?r=guides&show=13

What does change is the ability of the school to place into high status legal employment, or jobs that lead to a reasonable debt repayment. The problem is that there are so few of these jobs and they tend to be overwhelmingly concentrated at top schools that this really isn't an advantage. Once school ranked 25 might place three times as many students into biglaw or AIII clerkships than a 100 ranked school in the same market, but that only means they are placing 12% into those jobs and the 100 ranked school is placing 4%. That's not a good enough reason to pay 200K for the 25 ranked school when the other jobs pay around 40-60K starting.

But that 25 ranked school is not competing for students with the 100 ranked school, but other 25 ranked schools, and likewise for the 100 ranked school. So the 100 ranked school, wanting to move up the rankings, might offer a full scholarship to the student with top 25 numbers. And it would be smart for a student who wanted to stay in the region and work at a 40-60K job to take that scholarship.

Steve Diamond

Tamara, you are wasting your breath with these folks.

Satisfied Tier 2 VAP

I'd take a top50 or second tier regional with scholarship over a t20 at sticker.

Separately, I understand that as big firm hiring has shrunk, small/medium firm hiring has increased. Legal work hasn't gone away, it's just shifting. From big to small and from major cities to regional cities.

Anonymous

Care to provide some support for the proposition that hiring at small/medium law firms has increased? Preferably, some support that wold also demonstrate that that hiring has at least equaled the decline in hiring by large law firms (to support the idea that the work is "just shifting)?

Separately (not directed at Satisfied Tier 2 VAP): Any news on those IP and e-mail addresses given to Brian Leiter?

Anonymous

This is what we really know:

Full-time, Long-Term Legal Jobs:

These jobs require bar passage or are judicial clerkships and are for at least 35 hours per week and have an expected duration of at least one year.
The national full-time, long-term legal rate is 55.2%.
At 73 law schools (37.1%), less than 50% of graduates had these legal jobs.
30 schools (15.2%) had less than 40%
10 schools (5.1%) had less than a 33%
89 schools (45.2%) exceeded the national rate of 55.2%.
31 schools (15.7%) had more than 67%
19 schools (9.6%) had more than 75%
5 schools (2.5%) had more than 90%

And that counts all kinds of full-time legal jobs, no matter how low on the food chain.

Diane Curtis

As a pre-law advisor at a large university, I am most concerned with how my students can become as informed as possible about the realities of the practice of law before they make the decision to attend law school. The relatively easy (albeit still challenging) part is providing them with information about debt and jobs. The tougher part is helping them understand what it means to be a lawyer. I recommend law-related internships, of course, and post-grad legal assistant or paralegal jobs, and many are able to secure such positions, from which they can get on-the-ground perspectives on the profession.

But I also try to put students in a room with talkative lawyers as many times as possible through a variety of networking events, as well as to connect them for one-on-one conversations via LinkedIn and other means. I publish regular profiles from alums who are working in law. A great many (perhaps most) of my students do not know any lawyers, do not have lawyers in their families or in their families' social circles. This is the only way they can really get this kind of first hand contact and information.

I urge every lawyer who is concerned about the choices that prospective law students are making to reach out to their undergraduate alma mater's pre-law advisor and/or career services office. Offer to connect with undergrads interested in legal careers, share your experiences. It's not enough to offer the cliché response of every lawyer ever, "Don't go to law school!" That tells the students nothing at all, and in fact leads them to ignore your simplistic advice (I am certain of this because I talk to these students every day).

Instead, tell them what you do every day, what you like, what you don't, why you're disappointed (if you are), why you're fulfilled (if you are). Tell them how much you borrowed, how much you make, how the debt has impacted your life choices, what your job searches have been like, or, if you're in a position to hire, what you look for in applicants, and how you see the current job market in your firm, niche, region.

Give them the information they need to make the kind of informed decisions you want them to make.

While I agree that law schools should do much more to inform prospective students, I also believe that everyone in this profession should do a lot more to reach out to and inform prospective students. Don't blame students for believing in "To Kill a Mockingbird" and "Law and Order" when you haven't provided them with any alternative stories of real lawyers' lives.

BoredJD

Diane-

Thanks for posting. It's interesting to hear the perspectives of pre-law advisors. Could I pick your brain with a few questions?

How many students come to see you who are aware of the huge debt amounts and the poor job prospects, but don't seem to have internalized that information or don't think the trends apply to them for some reason? What proportion of students have not done even basic research and at what stage in the process are they? How many rely solely or mostly on USNews rankings? Many people I talk to cannot believe that any college student could be unaware of the basic facts surrounding the law school crisis. I'm less optimistic.

I'd also recommend you direct your students to top-law-schools.com, a forum for law students and lawyers. They can receive a lot of information about specific schools there. Law School Transparency has a great website that breaks down job prospects and costs. I'd advise you not to only rely on the stories of lawyers (especially established practitioners who went to school in different times), but include recent grads who are not working as lawyers. That will give students a fuller picture of the situation on the ground.

Diane Curtis

Yesterday, I posted a very lengthy response to your questions, BoredJD, but I'm not seeing it here, sadly. Perhaps it's lost in moderation?

I'll try to find time to reconstruct it at some point this evening.

BoredJD

No problem- I think the comment system here eats long comments. Some posters tend to divide their comments into two posts.

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