Paul L. Caron

Monday, August 5, 2013

Brescia: Amid the Debate, J.D.'s True Value Gets Lost

National Law Journal op-ed:  Amid the Debate, J.D.'s True Value Gets Lost, by Ray Brescia (Albany):

It's not easy, but landing a rewarding job — and paying the bills — can be done in today's job market.

Today, those considering attending law school hear a constant refrain: The job prospects for law graduates are not strong enough to justify the cost of pursuing a legal education. Yet a recent controversial study, The Economic Value of a Law Degree, by Michael Simkovic and Frank McIntyre, shows that a law degree in the current market is worth 60 percent more than a typical college degree — up to $1 million more. Those in the camp who think law school is not a good investment are skeptical of these findings.

But this study and its critics all overlook one important fact: Thousands of lawyers across the United States are not in it for the money and never have been. What's more, many of these lawyers find their jobs incredibly rewarding and find that their law degree actually helps them change the world.

It's hard to put a monetary value on such power.

Lawyers across the country defend the accused, prosecute perpetrators of crime and counsel nonprofit organizations that are helping survivors of domestic violence and offering job training and other assistance to veterans. They can be found in national organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union and in hundreds of local legal aid organizations offering free legal assistance to those who cannot afford it. ...

Columnist Thomas Friedman of The New York Times writes that college graduates won't find a job; they will create it. This is no less true of law graduates interested in pursuing public interest careers. Finding — and funding — one's public interest dream job can be done, to which thousands of public interest lawyers, solo practitioners, community lawyers and plaintiff-side employment lawyers who are out practicing in the world can attest. In the words of Billie Holiday: "Difficult can be done right now, the impossible will take a little while."

Changing the world will not come easy for these aspiring lawyers; it never has. But that shouldn't stop anyone from trying.

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Just what law schools need, more entrants that believe their degree will allow them to "save the world."

Posted by: Jobs | Aug 5, 2013 12:42:51 PM

While true in theory, the fact is that lawyers, like everyone else, need to bring home enough money to afford a place to stay and food and possibly even help raise a family. A $100K+ law school debt coupled with a $50K per year job makes that combination pretty difficult.

Posted by: SN | Aug 5, 2013 5:52:03 PM

Thousands of lawyers across the United States are not in it for the money and never have been."

That's all well and good, but debts must be repaid.

"What's more, many of these lawyers find their jobs incredibly rewarding and find that their law degree actually helps them change the world."

As a credential - maybe.
As an education - possibly.
But should the educational benefits bestowed upon law students take three years and $150k+ to impart?


Posted by: No, breh. | Aug 5, 2013 5:59:34 PM

Bravo, Prof. Brescia. I didn't go to law shool to become a lawyer. When I changed my mind halfway through my first year, and decided to use my law degree to be a lawyer, I didn't do so for the money. In 36+ years of public law practice (federal and state), I have never made money on the scale of the private lawyers I have encountered on the "other side." We never skiied in the Alps or even at Vail. We never hit the beach at Hilton Head. But I have made enough money to live comfortably and to take plain old vanilla family vacations. And every single day has been interesting, and most of the time, I have felt like what I did made a difference. Last, to paraphrase Gen. George C. Patton, when my grandchildren ask me what I did during my career, I won't have to say I shoveled **** in Louisiana.

Posted by: Publius Novus | Aug 6, 2013 7:02:47 AM

Publluis Novus,

The original post, as well as your comment, are both true and way off the mark. Biglaw jobs and Govt./Public Interest jobs can be put into the same category for all intents and purposes when evaluating employment outcomes for recent grads. Both are desireable for their own reasons, and both are extremely difficult to obtain. The public interest/government jobs typically lead to full debt forgiveness, so, in reality, they are almost as financially rewarding as a Biglaw job in NYC over the first 10 years.

I'm sure that the major dichotomy when you went to school was private practice or nonprofit/govt work. Now, it is unemployment/low-level private practice vs. biglaw/public interest/govt. But, as I have learned, professionals from the baby boomer generation just continue to fight the same fights and see the world through the same lens, and the majority of their arguments are aimed at defending their own life choices. So, I don't really expect many individuals in he 50+ category to really understand what I've explained here.

Posted by: JM | Aug 6, 2013 7:53:51 AM

Two points:
1. JDs do not have a monopoly on changing the world. You don't need a degree to make a difference.
2. JD holders aren't entering the priesthood. It's a profession, and it's a harder profession in which to make a living.
3. One criticism of law profs is that they are in it to make a buck. A very large buck. Put your money where your mouth is and call for a dramatic cut in law faculty pay and a corresponding cut in tuition. Unwilling to do so? I thought so.

Posted by: Inigo Montoya, esq | Aug 6, 2013 8:17:18 AM

Just to follow up on my earlier post, in 2011 Albany Law School placed 27 grads in Govt/Public Interest Jobs. Of these 27, only 7 reported a salary. So, I think it is fair to estimate that no more than 10 grads were hired as real attorneys in the public sector out of Albany Law School. This is about the same as what they place for Biglaw.

The other 90% of the class is screwed. Most people who criticize the value of law school are referring to this 90% of people. Naturally, Brescia wants to divert attention from the 90%, and focus on the 5% in Govt/Public Interest as if the world has ignored all sorts of alternatively rewarding careers.

Posted by: JM | Aug 6, 2013 8:18:27 AM