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April 07, 2014

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Jeff Harrison

I really like your series. Honest, useful, important. I really regret the overuse of the term "depression." It is thrown around very casually and dilutes what is a very serious disease. I do not believe any one can know what depression is until they experience it. I read your sources on the percentage of depressed students and while I am convinced that at least 30+ could use some help in the second year the check list approach used by the researcher is not a test of whether the individuals are actually depressed.

Harry Gen

Thank you for your honest discussion of these important issues facing the legal profession. It takes guts and courage to come forward with a such a personal story, and I admire you for it. I respect the honesty with which you've discussed this issue, which is why I must also be honest with you (and with others on this blog). And if you're honest about having an open discussion, you'll allow this post on your site.

I am a current law student at a "well-ranked" law school (according to the arbitrary US News metrics) and I see some of these same pressures in my classmates. You are right that these pressures are also acutely felt by most law school students, and that this pressure is compounded by a culture that disfavors any sign of "anxiety." But your posts miss a large underlying cause of the anxiety and stress which plagues law school students today.

That cause is simply the economic reality of the legal profession, and the fact that too many students are paying too much for legal educations. Simply put, there are too many law schools out there charging tuition prices which are completely out of whack with the opportunities they provide. By charging way too much and implicitly promising way too much, these law schools set graduates up not only for disappointment, but also on the path to financial ruin.

The institution you work for (Charlotte Law), Professor Clarke, is one of these law schools. Charlotte charges $40,000 a year in tuition and fees. Taking into account interest on federal loans, a student would end up with close to $200,000 in non-discharchable debt upon graduation. According Charlotte's statistics, the average graduate leaves with over $135,000 in debt. Most financial planners would tell you that to service that debt load while avoiding poverty, you'd need an annual salary of at least $90,000 (roughly two-thirds of that debt load).

Now let's look at the numbers. Only 36.9% of Charlotte's Class of 2013 is employed in a full-time legal job. Another 17% were employed in a "JD Advantage" job. This means that 46% of Charlotte's last graduating class is either not working, or not pursuing an activity or job that required the law degree they just spent three years attaining.

Let's look at the lucky 54% of the Class of 2013 that actually got legal or JD Advantage jobs. I couldn't find average salary information on Charlotte's website, but according to US News, the graduates from Charlotte who do manage to find private-sector jobs make on average $56,000 per year (the figure is similar for public interest jobs). $56,000 per year! That is nowhere NEAR what a graduate needs to service a $135,000 debt load.

Simply put Professor Clarke, the institution you work for is leading nearly half of its class (or more) down the path to financial ruin. What's unfortunate is that there are plenty of other law schools which are charging too much money for educations that simply aren't worth the cost.

Now, to your credit, you say you dissuade some from pursuing the legal profession and ask students to re-evaluate their reasons for going to law school. Professor Clarke, you sound like a great teacher, and I mean that sincerely. You've practiced extensively and I'm sure many of us would like to have a teacher like you in the classroom.

But to all the law professors who read this blog: if you are currently working at a law school that (1) fails to place the majority (>50%) of its graduates in long-term legal jobs OR (2) fails to place the majority of its graduates in any type of job that pays salaries which allow for repayment of the student loan debt incurred because of your school's tuition costs, you may not be part of the solution. You may be part of the problem.

I don't expect a mass resignation of law professors at these schools anytime soon, because you all are trying to make a living for yourselves and your families as well, and I respect that. But know that the numbers don't lie. And when your law school (1) charges $35,000 per year or more in tuition, (2) puts out graduates with debt loads anywhere from $150-$200,000, and (3) fails to place most of its graduates in any legal position or non-legal position that pays a salary which can allow someone to pay down that kind of debt, your law school is definitely part of the problem.

Concerned Citizen

Kudos to you, Brian, for being big enough/brave enough to own and speak to this. I have no doubt that it helps many of your students.

Just plain kudos.

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