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Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Law Students Do NOT Have Buyer's Remorse

Ronit Dinovitzer (Toronto), Bryant Garth (UC-Irvine) & Joyce Sterling (Denver), Buyers' Remorse? An Empirical Assessment of the Desirability of a Legal Career, 63 J. Legal Educ. ___ (2013):

The literature attacking the value of legal education relies as a rule on the idea that individuals attend non-elite law schools because of optimism bias -- thinking they will get the lucrative corporate jobs deemed necessary to pay off educational debt. They presumably would then get buyers' remorse when their optimism proves unjustified. Drawing on the first two waves of the only longitudinal data on lawyer careers, the After the J.D. Study, the authors examine whether those who began their careers in the year 2000 -- with substantial debt even if not as high as today's graduates -- showed evidence of buyers' remorse about their decision to get a law degree. The evidence indicates that law graduates beyond the most elite were able to pay down their debt at the same rate or better than most elite law graduates. In addition, after seven years of practice the great majority of these lawyers were still satisfied with their decision to become lawyers. In fact, there is no statistically significant difference in reported satisfaction with the decision to become a lawyer when we compare graduates from the higher and lower ranked law schools. And while there is some suggestion that lawyers who reported still owing more than $100,000 after seven years of practice were either ambivalent or dissatisfied with their decision to invest in a legal career, multivariate models show that percent of debt remaining seven-eight years into one's career has no significant relationship with career satisfaction. Thus, in contrast to the dominant story, most respondents irrespective of debt are extremely or moderately satisfied with their decision to become a lawyer. There is no indication in our data that these law graduates feel they made a mistake by choosing to go to law school. The data also show that those most likely to favor eliminating the third year of law school were elite law graduates and attorneys in large corporate law firms -- again a contrast to the dominant story.

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Comments

Shouldn't the comparable be law school v. other graduate school v. no graduate school? This is an elite v. non-elite comparison offers very weak support for this statement: "There is no indication in our data that these law graduates feel they made a mistake by choosing to go to law school."

Posted by: HTA | Aug 28, 2013 4:39:11 PM

Why would a comparison with, say, people who got a PhD in history make the survey of law grads' feelings more reliable?

Posted by: JMH | Aug 28, 2013 5:37:44 PM

They did a good job with this, although it would be more worthy to compare to people who attended other types of grad/professional schools, as the commenter above me has already noted. The time marker of seven to eight years after graduation accurately reflects the decision making informally used among my own peers related to the gaping terror of student loans. We knew we wanted to pay down our debts as fast as possible (paying far more than the "minimums" due monthly) to see how low we could push down the balances over the next decade. It took a long-term view, patience and sacrifice (and having a job lined up before graduation, which unfortunately isn't the case for many graduates nowadays).

Posted by: Timing | Aug 29, 2013 9:44:35 AM

Didn't Mike Simkovic's study just do something similar to what you're suggesting HTA? Of course, you have to accept that financial well-being is a proxy for not feeling like law school was a mistake, which may not be true.

Posted by: Simkovic | Aug 29, 2013 9:46:12 AM

I agree with HTA. For a group of individuals who collective utility to society -- indeed, their value as human beings -- is that they are so skilled in critical thinking and precise reasoning that they can teach others to "think like lawyers" this is a shoddy headline.

The study should be, there is no significant difference between reported student satisfaction from elite schools and other institutions. But then again, I'm thinking like a lawyer rather than a featherbedding carni barker sophist.

Posted by: Inigo Montoya, esq | Aug 29, 2013 10:12:32 AM

"[T]he authors examine whether those who began their careers in the year 2000" = completely inapplicable in the year 2013.

Posted by: K1 | Aug 29, 2013 4:11:08 PM