December 12, 2012
McEntee: The Problem With Law School
The November 29 New York Times editorial by Case Western law school dean Lawrence E. Mitchell (Law School Is Worth the Money) [criticized here] reminds us why people relentlessly criticize law schools. The piece misleads readers and shamelessly disregards why critics stand up for students. ...
Dean Mitchell wants to take the long view. Forget that when law school started for this May's graduating class, ABA-approved schools enrolled 52,500 students, or that from 2007 through 2011 an average of just 27,200 graduates had full-time legal jobs within nine months of graduation. Overlook that tuition continues to increase, despite years of warnings that tuition hikes at rates far exceeding inflation are unsustainable and unfair.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the crunch for lawyer jobs continues to worsen. It projects 21,880 new lawyer jobs per year through 2020, in part because the legal profession is undergoing substantial structural change. Globalization, technological improvements, and a growing market for non-lawyer legal services contribute to a weakened entry-level market for fresh graduates. Nevertheless, the law school crisis is not solely a function of oversupply. ...
If a student debt-finances the entire cost of their legal education at Dean Mitchell's school today, she will owe a cool quarter of a million dollars by the time her first payment is due. 46.3% of the school's class of 2011 had full-time professional jobs (legal or not) lasting at least one year; 20% of the class made at least $70,000. Not even 10% of the class made more than the average amount borrowed ($98,900), let alone the actual debt figures after interest accumulates during school and opportunity costs. As these facts seep into the marketplace, it is no wonder Case Western's enrollment is down 35% over the last two years.
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A law degree won't guarantee you a high paying job. There are no guarantees in this world. But law school dramatically increases the chances of obtaining a high paying job and keeping it, whether in law or a related field--business, finance, government.
McEntee misleadingly considers only full time jobs requiring a law degree--which excludes many great jobs for which a law degree is an advantage. Over 85 percent of recent law graduates obtained some kind of employment at graduation, and only 9 percent were unemployed. Only 2 percent were in non-professional jobs. Average (mean) starting salary--for all jobs, not just full time legal--was nearly $80,000 and median was about $60,000.
This is DOUBLE the starting salary for liberal arts graduates.
The outcomes for law graduates are much better than the outcomes for liberal arts graduates or those without a college degree in their mid 20s. It's a bad economy, and everyone is suffering, especially the young. But the young with law degrees are doing better than most.
Starting salaries are only a small part of the picture. Over a 30 - 50 year career, law grads see their salaries go up faster than most. On average, a law grad has decades of higher earnings and lower risk of unemployment ahead of him or her than a liberal arts college grad.
Law school critics should be honest about how spectacularly well law grads do compared to their age group.
Posted by: Anon | Dec 12, 2012 9:43:13 AM
"But the young with law degrees are doing better than most."
Quantify that claim, taking into account the astronomical debt incurred, the income forgone, and the large fraction of law grads with economically poor outcomes relative to undergrads and perhaps high school grads.
Your vague promises and data-deprived claims are obsolete in the age of the internet.
Explain why the BLS can barely find even half of the 1.4 million JDs graduated over the last 40 years employed in legal jobs.
Perhaps they are all retired millionaires or have joined departed pets upstate "at a nice farm" - that is the quality of your nebulous, empirically unsupported promises.
Or perhaps you are part of the coven of academic legal "professionals" (I use the term derisively) who think it wonderful that income-based repayment be used to offload some of the burden of the academic kleptocracy be offloaded from the students to the taxpayers?
Posted by: cas127 | Dec 12, 2012 5:30:53 PM
Four months ago I put an ad on Craigslist for a beginning legal secretary $3,000 per month. Fifteen recent law school graduates and 3Ls applied for the job. We recently hired a 2012 law school grad to be a part time receptionist.
Posted by: Richard | Dec 13, 2012 8:28:44 AM
Law school has been a rip off for some time. The facts cited in are correct. The same goes for Engineering. The curriculum is dumbed down in many cases and engineering is a voction not a profession...and employers only want cheap foreign engineers in many cases (you can get an engineer in China for $3000/month see http://www.gemini.com.hk/assets/doc/survey_china.pdf
the problem is in part, the schools only want head count, if americans will not enroll, their solution is to import foreigners to fill engineering schools...the same for law...law has had enought americans to fill the schools, primarily becuase as undergraduates, kids wasted time and money majoring in useless programs...upon graduation they were not fit for any jobs so they went to law school...folks need to keep getting the word out about the disconnect between real world employment needs and the education establishment
Posted by: John | Dec 13, 2012 8:32:04 AM
I am a 20 year practitioner with a JD and MLT. I have worked 8 years in large (>1800) and small (<50) law firms and 12 years in-house, most recently as a GC for a small oil and gas company in the Rockies. I love lawyering for a living. No doubt law schools have taken the opportunity to raise tuition beyond what the market will bear. The more significant trend in my career has been increased productivity in the legal industry and demands from clients that lawyers and law firms work more efficiently for their billed hour. This trend naturally shakes the lower tiers of lawyers and firms that do not adapt because large law firms will always serve the top niche that will pay top dollar for the same expertise. I have also reached the conclusion years ago that law is a medieval guild, a scam that controls entrance, qualifications and regulation, and unfairly excludes qualified non-lawyers that are competent in specialties. Law is becoming more elite and narrow at the top and much much less lucrative at the bottom.
Posted by: Mark | Dec 13, 2012 8:40:44 AM
Law schools [and the anon commenter] are apparently relying on the idea [fact?] that some large percentage of entering law students are gullible, uninformed, and easily misled. That hasn't been a bad bet so far. However, I'm willing to bet that the drop-off in enrollments is not driven by that group, but by the suspicious, informed, wary and more high-scoring potential applicants. That will have to make things worse, not better, as the cited percentage will just increase [and I wonder how many of them will make really good lawyers].
Posted by: JorgXMckie | Dec 13, 2012 9:28:01 AM
"Over 85 percent of recent law graduates obtained some kind of employment at graduation, and only 9 percent were unemployed."
No, over 85% of the recent law graduates who responded (about 93% of the actual number of law graduates, making that number 79% of total law graduates) said that they were employed as of the time that their surveys were returned for the February 2012 NALP deadline. Using this chart, you will see that only 38% - 17,058 of 44,495 - were known to have received their job offers before graduation.
"Average (mean) starting salary--for all jobs, not just full time legal--was nearly $80,000 and median was about $60,000."
Of the 27,224 people who claimed that they found JD-required jobs, only 15,999 reported a salary - about 58%. The "JD-advantage" and "other professional" only had about 34% report a salary. Campos and others have commented on the bias towards reporting of higher salaries - first because people want to report higher ones, and second because the higher-paying law firms make their salaries a matter of public record rather than private negotiation. Thus, it is reasonable not to have high confidence that the interval demonstrated by the survey captures the total population, and especially the low end.
On average, a law grad has decades of higher earnings and lower risk of unemployment ahead of him or her than a liberal arts college grad.
Starting salaries are only a small part of the picture. Over a 30 - 50 year career, law grads see their salaries go up faster than most.
Posted by: Morse Code for J | Dec 13, 2012 9:29:20 AM