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Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
Pepperdine University School of Law

Sunday, April 7, 2013

The Guardian: Law Students Face Uncertain Future With Jobs Scarce and Debt High

The Guardian:  Law Students Face Uncertain Future With Jobs Scarce and Debt High:

The law profession is facing a crisis, and a juris doctor is no longer a generalist's degree; it's not all courtrooms and arguing any more. Computers can do much of the same work as a law clerk, and schools are having to adjust. ...

There is less focus on how the change in the legal profession will affect students. Law schools are adapting, but graduates don't have it so easy. Many feel locked into legal careers because of the crushing debt they have accumulated; fewer people are running to law school hoping it will save them from the economy. Applications to law school have dropped by 20% compared with those posted by this time in 2012, according to a March report from the Law School Admissions Council. ...

Permanent jobs with high-paying salaries are a thing of the past for many graduates, and a handful of attorneys are suing against what they feel were misleading job success rates posted by their law schools. The Los Angeles Times reported Monday that 18 law schools around the country are being sued by graduates who claim they choose their schools because of high graduate placement, a figure commonly used to rank the quality of the school. At least five of those lawsuits were filed in California. ...

Massive debt and fewer prospects mean the era of law degrees as a route into the job market could be coming to an end. Law schools are meeting lower demand for graduates with generalist degrees by shifting law school curriculums into more specialized areas. "Private sector demand for smart but financially illiterate law graduates with a general professional degree and no particular industry expertise is, to say the least, dwindling," Victor Fleischer wrote in the New York Times last October.

But it's too little too late for some.

"I never really thought about whether I would actually like being a lawyer, which seems absurd to me now," Manhattan-based lawyer Emily, 28, told the Guardian, "but is extremely common among young people applying to law school." Emily's debt after graduating with a degree from Fordham Law is $139,000 – average Fordham debt: $134,319 – and though her salary of $170,000 at a Manhattan law firm is enough to pay off the bill in 10 years, she's locked into a career she doesn't enjoy at least until then. Her loan payment: $1,700 per month. "I haven't enjoyed my career so far, and I honestly don't think I will," Emily said. "I am tied to working at a big law firm if I want any chance at repaying my loans in a reasonable time and it is not a good job. And I'm one of the lucky ones because I'm employed!" ...

As thousands of students apply for law school this spring – less than before, but still thousands – they're inevitably asking themselves: is the debt worth it?

(Hat Tip: David Finkel.)

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