I’m a law dean, and I’m proud. And I think it’s time to stop the nonsense. After two years of almost relentless attacks on law schools, a bit of perspective would be nice.
For at least two years, the popular press, bloggers and a few sensationalist law professors have turned American law schools into the new investment banks. We entice bright young students into our academic clutches. Succubus-like, when we’ve taken what we want from them, we return them to the mean and barren streets to fend for themselves.
The hysteria has masked some important realities and created an environment in which some of the brightest potential lawyers are, largely irrationally, forgoing the possibility of a rich, rewarding and, yes, profitable, career.
The starting point is the job market. It’s bad. It’s bad in many industries. “Bad,” in law, means that most students will have trouble finding a first job, especially at law firms. But a little historical perspective will reveal that the law job market has been bad — very bad — before. ... What else will these thousands of students who have been discouraged from attending law school do? ...
It’s true, and a problem, that tuition has increased. ... Debt, too, is a problem. The average student at a private law school graduates with $125,000 in debt. But the average lawyer’s annual salary exceeds that number. You’d consider a home mortgage at that ratio to be pretty sweet. Investment in tuition is for a lifelong career, not a first job. There are many ways to realize a satisfactory return on this investment. Even practicing law appears to have paid off over the long term.
The graying of baby-boom lawyers creates opportunities. As more senior lawyers retire, jobs will open, even in the unlikely case that the law business doesn’t expand with an improving economy. More opportunity will open to women and minorities, too. As with any industry in transition, changes in the delivery of legal services create opportunities as well as challenges. Creative, innovative and entrepreneurial lawyers will find ways to capitalize on this.
The overwrought atmosphere has created irrationalities that prevent talented students from realizing their ambitions. ... We could do things better, and every law school with which I’m familiar is looking to address its problems. In the meantime, the one-sided analysis is inflicting significant damage, not only on law schools but also on a society that may well soon find itself bereft of its best and brightest lawyers