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July 04, 2012


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Alfred Brophy

Thanks for this, Bernie -- lots of information to digest here. Is it possible to get the table re-ranked according to, say, the final column. Looks like that's your preferred variable and I'd be very curious to see how the schools look when ranked that way, instead of with US News overall score. Also, I'd be interested in seeing this list broken down into state vs. private schools.


Penn State is not unranked

Bernie Burk

Anon, you are absolutely right, and I apologize for our data entry mistake. I'm correcting the chart now.


Ben Barros

Bernie, I understand the need (or desire) to find data points that can give prospective students meaningful information about job placement at various schools. I worry about excluding JD Advantaged and other professional jobs. You are correct that these categories are blurry, but there are two reasons to take them seriously. First, many of these jobs are desirable. Second, ignoring these categories will hurt schools with evening programs and help those that do not have evening programs. Some evening students continue on after graduation with their employers, and some intended to do so when they came to law school. Could you clarify how these categories are being reflected in your numbers? Thanks, Ben

Jonathan Silber

I'm having second thoughts about having enrolled in law school
at the University of Puerto Rico.

Bill Turnier

JD Advantaged is really tough to sort out. I am most familiar with these jobs in situations where JDs take jobs with accounting firms. In the case of some hires, the student is regarded as a highly desirable asset by the accounting firm (e.g. where the accounting firm wishes to deal with estate planning and being a lawyer/accountant is virtually required for the position) whereas in other circumstances a JD who is also a CPA finds he/she cannot obtain a job that requires a JD and basically takes an accounting job that could have been theirs without ever having entered law school. The problem is that one must have intimate knowledge of each hire to make a judgment, a real impossibility.

Steve Diamond

Is data for the last decade or more available? Otherwise these numbers are not meaningful. Granted, there is clear anecdotal evidence that the last few years have been worse than in earlier downturns, but is this worse than, let's say, post-dot com? or post-91?


And the fact that these bleak outcomes may have been going on for *years* (why else did the schools and the ABA have to be forced - 16 *years* into the internet era - to disclose this vital data) gets you very close to the black, hypocritically evil heart of American legal education.


re: "Excluding too many jobs/making law school outcomes look worse than reality"

If this were the case, law schools would be beating one another silly to post complete *salary* data. They would not be creating confusing sub-categories in a pathetic attempt to muddy the water.

The fact that law schools are resisting *salary disclosure* like cornered, syphilitic rats on a sinking ship - more or less tells *everyone*...precisely what they don't want to tell *anyone*.

Things are much worse than even the *finally* disclosed statistics indicate.

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f this were the case, law schools would be beating one another silly to post complete *salary* data. They would not be creating confusing sub-categories in a pathetic attempt to muddy the water.

The fact that law schools are resisting *salary disclosure* li

Steve Diamond

I asked my school to provide me with data that goes back to 2001. Indeed, it turns out that the single year data do not paint a complete picture. Although there are some problems in the different methods used to collect the data, it is clear that the post dot-com downturn was as bad as the current downturn, but it did not last as long. It is also clear that the credit boom through 2007 helped erase the impact of the bursting of that bubble. It also appears that 2011 is better than both 2009 and 2010. In other words, law firms and law schools have never been immune from the ups and downs of the wider economy. This does not suggest that the law school "model" is broken as some argue.

Bernie Burk


It's usually dangerous to respond to analysis based on what you think may be inadequate data with an even more limited sample than the one you're criticizing. One school's employment data (yours, limited by the very overinclusive categories of employment the ABA prescribed until this year) out of 200 law schools is unlikely to be especially informative about the legal economy as a whole. Without carrying on too long about this, let me make a couple of quick observations:

It is not at all clear that "the post dot-com downturn was as bad as the current downturn," whether in the legal sector or generally. In fact, that statement is clearly wrong. Unemployment in the general economy never got anywhere close to 10% during the dot-com bust, or even the 8.2% we see today--in fact, I believe it topped out around 4.9%. As for the legal sector, in the early 2000s, lawyer headcount at larger firms continued to rise despite the recession. So did the overall number of lawyers employed in the United States, as well as the number of people employed in the legal sector of the economy. Large-firm lawyer headcount fell about 10% in 2009 and 2010; the number of people employed in the legal sector overall also fell during this period for the first time in I don't know how long, but at least 20 years.

Your overall contention appears to be that what we are seeing in the legal employment market is merely cyclical, and everything will go back to (the old) normal once the storm blows over. That is debatable, but not nearly as debatable as you seem to be assuming, and again your data is seriously incomplete. The growth rate of lawyers and the legal sector has exhibited some variability related to cyclical conditions, but the number of lawyers has consistently grown, and grown more rapidly than the economy as a whole, since at least the 1970s. The only time lawyer headcount at larger firms fell at all before 2009 was in 1990-91, where it fell about 0.5% in 1990 and in 1991. It did not fall in the early 80s (the worst recession since the Depression until this one) or the early 2000s, though it grew less rapidly. It fell ten times that much in each of 2009 and 2010. So it is nowhere close to correct to suggest that lawyer employment has ever moved closely in tandem with the overall US economy.

And as you know, past results are no guarantee of future performance. Currently large firms are hiring entering classes that are 30-50% smaller than earlier in this decade. You can believe that this is merely cyclical if you wish. It is hard to find anyone who has spent any time with the data who actually thinks this today. A detailed qualitative and quantitative case for the proposition that what we are seeing reflects not only the cyclical downturn, but structural changes in the staffing and pricing of legal services that will influence hiring of new graduates for years to come is made in the article I published with Dave McGowan at 2010 Columbia Business Law Review 1 ( Bill Henderson similarly believes that legal employment was "stagnating" for several years before the Great Recession as a result of accumulating structural pressures.

Does this mean the law school "model" is broken? My problem is that I don't know what piece of the picture people are referring to when they refer to the "model." What I do know is that there are currently a very large number of people going to law school--1/3 or more of the current census of about 130,000--who will not be able to find full-time legal employment when they graduate. That has, to the best of my knowledge, never been true before, ever. There is ample room for debate regarding what to do about it. But those who profess there is nothing to address do so not only at their own peril, but at the peril of those whose welfare we as educators we should be safeguarding.


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