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October 15, 2011


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The thing that I do wonder is, as a public interest student and lawyer, I and many of my similar friends took jobs after law school that merely preferred a law degree (organizing, advocacy, research). I took such jobs despite having traditional firm offers because I wanted to engage in a different type of socio-legal work. 10 years later I have never traditionally practiced law but I have had a wonderfully fulfilling career in the public interest definitely using my degree. Under the new rules, I would have to be counted as not finding work requiring a law degree, which might make schools actively discourage students like me from non-traditional law paths. This would be a shame. Many of the schools with the most active public interest scenes also tend to be lower ranked schools and I would hate to see a school like CUNY or Northeastern suffer for their slightly nontraditional alumni paths

Brian Tamanaha

The current dean at Villanova, John Gotanda, disclosed the false reporting (which occurred under his predecessor) when he first took office. No reason for his head to roll.

Bernie Burk

Anon, you make an important and serious point. I don't take you to be suggesting that we should report less information to prospective law students so they won't be confused. But watch for this paternalistic dodge on the part of others who may be more interested in reporting less information and less interested in avoiding confusion.

So let's be clear: there are, as anon points out, lots of fulfilling and admirable career paths for which a law degree may be useful, but would not be literally required as they do not involve the practice of law strictly defined. Anyone who wishes to pursue a law degree because they do or just might want to pursue such a career can legitimately be encouraged to do so. Law schools that consider themselves particularly accomplished at preparing students for such careers should emphasize to prospective students that they provide a congenial environment for (among others) students with such interests, and can explain that this is why they place disproportionately more students in "JD preferred" jobs than other schools. They may even wish to provide MORE detail in the placement data they report so that prospective applicants and matriculants can appreciate where such schools have especially strong placement records.

Sunshine is not only the best disinfectant, it is a superior reading light.


Bernie Burk

Brian makes a fair and (to the best of my knowledge) completely accurate point: Current Villanova Law Dean John Gotanda has been outspoken about disclosing the school's past misstatements (which happened prior to his tenure as Dean), has promised a full accounting and accountability, and has taken steps to make it happen. For this he deserves a great deal of credit and admiration.

I was under the impression that the misreporting of entering class statistics was one reason Dean Gotanda's predecessor resigned. A quick review of the limited factual resources I have to hand suggests that this may be less than clear. Perhaps we will find out more about that in time.


Kendall Isaac

This ongoing debate about the value of a law degree is troubling to me. Like anon above, I initially pursued my law degree to enhance my career in human resources (a field that certainly can benefit from the degree but would fall under the category of preferring). Setting the bar solely as those who attained a law firm job would be to devalue those who never wanted a firm job to begin with (and thus damage a school's reputation when in fact the students may be totally satisfied with their career post law school). This being said, I did ultimately take a big firm job after law school and now teach law school, but I would have been happy as well had I continued to work within corporate America using my degree in a different capacity.

Bernie Burk

Kendall is advised to read my Comment responding to anon. Nothing in my post or in my comments suggests that a private law firm job is "better" or is more worthy of encouragement than any other use of a law degree. My perspective is pretty simple: Anyone considering pursuing a law degree should give some thought to what they might be able to do with it when they're done, and whether their investment of time, money and attention to matters outside the workplace is likely to serve their goals and needs. Law schools should be providing prospective applicants all the information they need to make this decision in an informed and thoughtful way.

For many people, the pursuit of a law degree is not all about the benjamins; they have social, political or personal interests and goals that they believe the degree will help them serve. That is completely legitimate and, indeed, admirable. They should have the information they need to decide whether law school is the right path for them.

Similarly, for those whose goals significantly or predominantly include the earning power of a law degree, they should have the information to evaluate how likely they are to achieve their aspirations.

If you think that people might misunderstand financial or placement statistics, the solution is to make sure they have the information to assure that they don't.


Daniel Martin Katz

Just to build on some of the other comments:

It is important to note that rise of the non-firm firms as well as many other legal hybrid positions. These are jobs that require the appropriate blending of one or more skill sets together with traditional law.

Indeed, given many of the law jobs of the not to distant future are likely to be hybrid - (i.e. of the law & __ ) manner, it is important for an institution to be duly credited for helping train its students for this type of work.

I highlight this and other related trends in the market for legal services / legal education in these slides:

The MIT School of Law: A Perspective on Legal Education in the 21st Century

Alfred Brophy

That's a pretty interesting presentation, Daniel. I'm looking forward to the paper; I agree there will be enormous demand for those algorithms once they're developed.

It's not so clear to me that law schools are the place where they'll be developed. Westlaw and Lexis have transformed the profession in many and very important ways, even though few legal academics or lawyers have the ability to understand the computer science behind them. Still, as I say, I'm very interested in learning more.

JD in KY

I think this is a great discussion going on. I actually look at the issue a little differently than "anon." When I graduated from law school (a top 40 school using the US News rankings) I went to work outside the legal profession. Specifically, I went to work for a small liberal arts college in the student affairs area. I knew I needed to get my feet wet to move into a director of student conduct position where I could use my JD. I'm sure that my law school counted my job outside of law in their statistics. I wonder if that was really representative of the school's role in my job search. That job in no way reflected on my legal education or the services the school provided me in the career services realm.

I also felt that my law school had a difficult time adapting to students who were not interested in following the traditional legal career path. Legal education in many ways is steeped in its professional school tradition which is not very flexible when students want an outcome different from the norm. That's even true in alumni publications. I've noticed that the school is very quick to praise people who work in the traditional legal settings and rarely, if ever, focuses on those of us who use our legal skills for something else. I'm now in a PhD program in higher education law and use my legal skills everyday and I'm happy to have them. I just wish law school had been more non-traditional approach friendly.

I'm optimistic that the slow economy and these controversies will help law schools be more flexible in their approaches to legal educations and non-traditional students. Maybe if reporting schemes change those of us with non-traditional goals will be highlighted more and not feel marginalized.

Bernie Burk

Thanks to Dan Katz for quite a different perspective on the question of what a legal education ought to be for. Dan, I wonder why you think that "many of the law jobs of the not to[o] distant future are likely to be hybrid - (i.e. of the law & __ ) manner." Technology has been changing at an accelerating pace for at least a hundred years or more, and yet it seems to me that lawyers are, at bottom, doing essentially the same things today they did in 1930, 1960 and 1990. They are, to be sure, using new and different tools and, as a result, doing some of those same things in rather different ways. But you seem to be suggesting a transformation of the profession and its core functions never seen heretofore. If you're right, why now? Or am I misinterpreting your PowerPoint?


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