Brian Tamanaha has asked two interesting questions in response to Steve Freedman’s recent posts on jobs and law school admissions. Steve has started a series of posts that make the argument that now is a good time to go to law school, because enrollment declines will lead to a very strong job market in just a few years. So far, he has addressed the supply side of the argument, noting the dramatic drop in law school enrollment will lead to fewer graduates hitting the job market in just a few years. He just put up another post showing projections of the demand side.
In response to Steve’s first post, Brian asked:
Please address the apparent contradiction in advice like this. Assuming no substantial change in the legal market (for better or worse), the job outlook for graduates stands to improve precisely because fewer students are enrolling in law school these days. But of course, if significant numbers of people take your advice and "enroll today" (thinking three years hence the oversupply of law grads will be eliminated by falling enrollment), then the job outlook will worsen as a consequence because the oversupply will not go down as much. So your prediction will bear out only if most people thinking about law school do not take your advice.
In a later thread, Brian asked (or observed):
What I don't understand is why legal educators think it is right to push so hard: "Enroll today! It's the best time in a generation." Let's wait and see. If the job market is indeed good in three years, that would be great for our graduates, who will have an easier time landing desirable jobs (compared to the devastatingly bad employment results for the class of 2013 published by the ABA a few days ago). The news will then get out that the market has turned around, and more people will apply (including those who delayed, meanwhile working to save money to pay for law school). If we wait a few years before trying to ramp up enrollment again, the current oversupply of law grads will have time to clear and stagnant wages of lawyers in the low end might rise, making the enormous debt they carry more manageable.
To wait and see is the prudent course for legal educators to take.
I want to take a crack at answering these two questions. The first is the harder and more interesting of the two. The second is relatively easy, so I will start with it.