Paul L. Caron

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Rodriguez: Law Schools and the Lost Generation

Dan Rodriguez (Dean, Northwestern; President, AALS), Law Schools and the Lost Generation:

Elie Mystal has a post today on Above the Law that gets to the heart of a real problem, and one which potentially will only grow in significance and impact. Law grads, as he notes, feel increasingly disaffected from their law schools once they graduate, this disaffection being tied not principally (my characterization, not his) to the quality of the education provided, but to the employment outcomes and correlative debt burden suffered by students out in the marketplace with challenges and stress. In the law schools, we call this group (grads of the last seven years or so) “the lost generation.”

The basic problem which undergirds Elie’s righteous and thoughtful post is that law schools too often regard their unemployed or underemployed graduates, more than, say, a year out, as someone else’s problem. Even those law schools that work hard, and creatively, to increase employment opportunities for their current students and newly-minted graduates lack the clear incentives to continue that assistance — and in a tangible way — over the several beginning years of their graduates’ careers. No wonder why young alums perceive their law school as connecting with them only with their hands out for money. They are more right than wrong.

Let’s keep it real and say, again with credit to Elie’s main message in this post that law schools must be proactive and strategic in providing their graduates with assistance over at least the first few years following graduation.

Elie Mystal (Above the Law), Who Is To Blame For Declining LSAT Applications?:

If you look at the general trend of law school reforms, such as they are, they’re all designed to appeal to the next crop of law students. Law schools are doing nothing to to ameliorate the losses of their former recent students. ...

Law schools think that their recent graduates who got screwed aren’t their problem anymore. In fact, those guys are the biggest problem for law schools. It’s those people, more than anybody else, who are telling their friends and family to “stay away.” It’s those parents who are saying to other parents “my kid went to law school, and look what happened.” Law school deans, economists, and (some members of) the media act like the glut of unemployed and under-employed law graduates no longer affects the market going forward because they’re no longer competing for the choice entry-level jobs. But these people didn’t just die. They’re still out there, still struggling, and still telling their stories to anyone who will listen.

Law schools have created an army of people who tell other people not to go to law school. That is their legacy over the past half decade. Their damage to their own brands is severe.

Legal Education | Permalink


I agree with Dean Rodriguez's comments that law schools should help graduates find jobs. My undergrad alma mater Baylor University helps alumni network and find jobs regardless of when they graduated. That enhances brand loyalty and long-term fundraising.

Posted by: Mark P. Yablon | Jul 16, 2014 10:46:01 AM

@Publius Novus/8:55 a.m.:

"What is the connection between the significant drop in LSAT applications and the 40k law grads/year?"

If you believe the poster to whom I replied, it's all the work of "a few individuals" who graduated law school during the last seven years, and an "irresponsible media."

My problem with that thesis is that LSAT applications tend to rise when the entry-level job market for college graduates is middling-to-terrible, and fall when it is better. Right now, LSAT applications are at a low not seen since 2000, at the end of the late-'90s tech bubble, despite an economy far less good for recent college graduates. Are we to attribute this solely to the New York Times and a few disaffected JDs on the Internet? Or is Mystal correct when he says that law school have produced "an army of people who tell other people not to go to law school," and that this reversal in the natural order of LSAT applications is attributable to that?

Since 2008, the national average of law graduates finding "lawyerly employment," loosely defined as full-time and requiring bar admission, within 9 months of graduating? Around 55%, per NALP. Maybe it all turns out well in the end for most of these people who don't get theirs within 9 months of graduating, but I know a couple dozen people for whom that hasn't been the case. Even I - a "success" - will tell anyone who asks, "Don't go to law school," unless they meet several criteria that screen out 90% of most people who would otherwise apply.

Posted by: Morse Code for J | Jul 16, 2014 10:15:47 AM

If someone is in the bottom 33% of their class after their first semester at an unranked school, that person should cut their losses and drop out of law school. Then that person can apply to get an MBA and transfer at least some credits to that new school.

And after the first two semesters (first year), if someone is in the bottom 50%, then that person should do the same thing - drop out and apply to get an MBA.

If that were to happen, the number of law graduates would decrease significantly and the job market would improve. And the problem with student loan debt would at least be reduced a portion (tuition is still too high, but at least this would help reduce the number of law graduates who never get employment).

Unfortunately, for many students, law school is a fool's errand.

Posted by: Rick Rubin Carter | Jul 16, 2014 10:09:56 AM

Daniel - there are widely published employment stats and debt figures. There is no need for a crystal ball for the average prospective to know in advance how his or her decision to attend law school will realistically turn out.

Posted by: JM | Jul 16, 2014 9:58:49 AM

@Morse Code for J: What is the connection between the significant drop in LSAT applications and the 40k law grads/year? You are mixing apples and oranges. The point is, with 40k law grads each year, certainly the bottom of the barrel, say 15% (that works out to 6k grads) of the graduates will not find lawyerly employment. This, quite predictably and understandably, will make those self-same bottom 6,000 very unhappy, discontented, and sorry they spent the money to go to law school. And likely to bad-mouth the whole lawyer universe. But then, it is probably a good thing that the bottom 15% don’t find employment as lawyers, don’t you think? I certainly wouldn’t want a physician or a dentist from the bottom 15%–although they are out there.

Posted by: Publius Novus | Jul 16, 2014 8:55:30 AM

@JM I appreciate the sarcasm in your post. Most people will probably miss the subtleness of your point, but I wanted to go on record as saying I saw it. If we can get people to visit psychics before taking the LSAT so that they will know if they will be unhappy afterward; we will save the profession and law schools. Brilliant idea!!

Posted by: Daniel | Jul 16, 2014 8:04:18 AM

How about helping them because they were likely mislead by law school advertising. Instead, the suggestion here is to help them as part of the "save the law schools" campaign. Is everything a means to end of preserving legal education at its current level?

Posted by: Jeffrey Harrison | Jul 16, 2014 4:58:11 AM

Maybe Northwestern law school is in trouble, because it is trying to be at Harvard Yale level and the employment scores are not good enough.

Posted by: Rick Rubin Carter | Jul 16, 2014 12:25:12 AM

"With 40,000 law graduates a year, you can always find a few individuals who will provide the necessary anecdotes to tell whatever story you want, let the data be damned."

You're right. Clearly it's just a very tiny fraction that has made LSAT applications drop below their historical average during every month for the last four years, amidst a sluggish job market for college graduates.

Posted by: Morse Code for J | Jul 15, 2014 2:05:43 PM

Eric Rasmusen is correct, and Dean Rodriguez is wrong. The solution is not to change the focus at law schools, or to put more emphasis on job placement for alumni. The solution is for far fewer people to attend law school.

If all the people who will inevitabley regret attending simply chose never to matriculate, then all these problems would vanish overnight.

Posted by: JM | Jul 15, 2014 12:06:54 PM

@Eric, I guess people got that impression by schools repeatedly saying they are preparing you for the law profession. You know, implying that there is a connection between law school and actually practicing law. Seems professors want all the trappings associated with being a part of the profession, except the assisting their students in getting into it. If professors, and by extension the schools, are not suppose to help, then tell me how professors are little more than a parrot or a highly paid speak and spell? I think most law students could read a casebook on their own and for far cheaper than tuition. I guess the only professors that matter to students are the ones writing the casebooks that are used. We should just go to one giant Coursera style program then for law school and let the handful of authors reap the financial rewards.

Posted by: Daniel | Jul 15, 2014 11:57:38 AM

Sorry - meant to say "most administrators" are made up of "attorneys" who never practiced, etc.

Posted by: Jim | Jul 15, 2014 11:40:07 AM

The problem is and has always been that law schools are really designed to train academics, not practicing attorneys. After a couple of years, they really don't know how to help a graduate because collectively they know nothing about the industry or how to practice law today. This includes faculty and administration. Most faculty now consist of "attorneys" who either never practiced or practiced for a very short time. Most faculty are made up of professional fundraisers, administrative bureaucrat, a semi-retired attorney or (and I know I'm going to offend some by saying this), women attorneys who didn't want to work the demanding law firm job. How do any of these individuals have or maintain the knowledge of the industry of law necessary to even help their alumni? They can't or they don't.

Posted by: Jim | Jul 15, 2014 11:37:33 AM

"aw schools too often regard their unemployed or underemployed graduates, more than, say, a year out, as someone else’s problem."

Where did people get the idea that schools were job placement agencies? It hurts education for them to provide that service, because it distracts from the mission of education and encourages fraud and short-sighted education.

Posted by: Eric Rasmusen | Jul 15, 2014 11:25:35 AM

I don't know who "Anon" is in this comment stream, but his real name is probably Dr. Pangloss. Even when I graduated and took the bar in 1997, all of my fellow bar-passers from my prestigious 3rd tier law school knew that we had no chance to get a job. We got the happy talk from the school administrators and faculty, but there was never a chance. The only classmate who did get a job with a firm was black and female. You fill in the blanks.

If every 3rd tier law school went out of business simultaneously, the backlog of unemployed bar passers would drop significantly, but it wouldn't go away. There is a structural change in the legal services business that resembles the automobile industry. Automation is responsible more than any other factor for the elimination of UAW jobs. Welcome to the equivalent situation in legal services.

Posted by: curmudgeoninchief | Jul 15, 2014 11:25:14 AM

I respect Dan's position here, but even with ungodly high debt levels, his school is one of a few that still provides arguably good outcomes. At least the ones who are doing it right are starting to recognize a larger problem.

Posted by: Stan | Jul 15, 2014 7:58:37 AM

I am one of the lucky few from the lost generation that secured employment. it meant working for some of the most horrible excuses of lawyers/humans imaginable, but I survived and have advanced. Yet,I still tell people to stay away from law school unless it is top top-tier, you get a full-ride, or are very well connected. The student loan debt I have incurred, after having acted on the advice of lawyers and professors, is an absolute economic noose around my neck.

Posted by: Daniel | Jul 15, 2014 7:36:15 AM

Every time a college graduate asks a law graduate if he should go to law school, what he’s really asking is if the law graduate would like more competition.

Many law graduates are cynical and clever enough that they will say no—and embellish as needed to be convincing—no matter how beneficial law school may have been to their own careers.

Elie Mystal sure has it rough, being famous, living in New York and making serious bank for doing something he loves.

Gee kid, don’t grow up to be like me! It’s terrible, I tell ya, just terrible!

Now working on an offshore oil rig straight out of high school, that’s where the real opportunities are!

Posted by: Anon | Jul 15, 2014 6:43:53 AM

Nothing new here. I graduated from what is now referred to as a T-14 school, way back in 1977. The late 70s were another rough period for the legal market. Career services at my T-14 school essentially consisted of four or five fat three-ring binders that held job announcements, more or less up to date, that were kept in the career services office. There was one book of part-time jobs for current students, a couple for new grads, and one or two for alumni. That was pretty much it. Career services also attempted to moderate a free-for-all interview process; that effort consisted of a rule, loosely enforced, limiting the number of interviews any particular 2L or 3L could arrogate to him or herself. There was nothing, of which I was aware, beyond that. These “services” closely resembled the services that had been available at my undergraduate school.

On the other hand, what else could they do?

Posted by: Publius Novus | Jul 15, 2014 6:34:26 AM

I'm not really sure what Elie Mystal is talking about. Harvard—where he went to school—provides ongoing support years after graduation. They have a special password protected career services website for alumni, there’s an online alumni network with job listings and contact information, there are spreadsheets with information about prospective employers, there are regular networking events, reunions, etc.

Many other law schools do the same, albeit with more limited resources and informally through a handful of professors and career services personnel rather than a website.

It’s certainly possible that Elie Mystal gets the cold shoulder when he goes to Harvard. But that’s because he’s Elie Mystal—a snarky tabloid journalist who would defame his own mother if it would generate an extra click for Above the Law. It has nothing to do with when he graduated and everything to do with how he conducts himself.

Posted by: Anon | Jul 15, 2014 6:30:37 AM

Judging from Ben Barros’s study of Widener students who graduated during the recession, the story of the “massive backlog of unemployed law graduates” is a myth.

Barros tracked down class of 2010 and 2011 graduates of Widener more than 9 months after graduation, and found that many more had found jobs than at the 9-month mark reported by the ABA and NALP. For the class of 2010, unemployment rates dropped from more than 13 percent to less than 1 percent. For the class of 2011, it dropped from almost 17 percent to less than 2 percent. The percent whose job statutes was unknown increased a bit, but even if all of the non-respondents were unemployed, the numbers would still look a lot better.

From after the JD, we know that pay is up as well, and students are on the whole still satisfied with their decisions to attend law school.

This is consistent with Simkovic & McIntyre’s findings, which include many law school graduates who entered the job market in equally bad economies in years past.

The decline in law school applications wasn’t created by a cohort of disaffected law graduates. It was created by an irresponsible blogosphere and an equally irresponsible mainstream press that realized panic and outrage attract eyeballs and help sell advertising.

With 40,000 law graduates a year, you can always find a few individuals who will provide the necessary anecdotes to tell whatever story you want, let the data be damned.

Posted by: Anon | Jul 15, 2014 6:21:51 AM

Spot on essay.

Count me among the lost generation - underemployed in a practice area far from what I had hoped for, and drowning in debt. I am sure to tell anyone who isn't getting into Harvard or independently wealthy to stay far, far, far away from law school.

Posted by: Todd | Jul 15, 2014 5:53:22 AM

I can aver that this discussion nails it pretty well. After nine months to one year, you become persona non grata to your law school alma mater. Career Services stops returning calls, deans give the cold shoulder at events, etc - just in time for those grads to experience the joys of being members of the long-term unemployed (which is technically defined as >6 months). According to any number of peer-reviewed studies, such folk are less employable than less-credentialed candidates with no unemployment, less employable than people with misdemeanor convictions on their record, and will have lower incomes for the entirety of their careers, if and when those ever start.

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | Jul 15, 2014 5:29:53 AM