We used to think it was telling that the New York Times started reporting (rather regularly, we might add) on the relationship between law schools and the underemployment facing lawyers in the US. Then it was the Wall Street Journal. Now it’s the WSJ again, but this time, in an undoubtedly in-your-face way.
Today, Smart Money’s “Ten Things Law Schools Won’t Tell You” covers many of the issues we’ve addressed here – how law schools are raising tuition while the number of lawyers working in high-paying big firm jobs is shrinking, how law school administrators struggle to present positive numbers of employed graduates so that their US News and Word Reports rankings won’t slide, and how third- and fourth-tier law schools’ value is not entirely clear.
We really liked Smart Money’s angle on a few of these issues. Here are a few we thought were well presented, and too important not to share:
1. People aren’t talking about how many lawyers are already out there. As the article says, “this year, around 45,000 students are graduating law school — the highest number ever, according to the American Bar Association. But there are only about 28,000 positions for lawyers that are available, according to Economic Modeling Specialists, a labor market analysis firm.” Not only is this too many people for the jobs that are available, but there are plenty of 2009, 2010 and 2011 graduates who are still unemployed.
2. The money isn’t what you expect. Most people calculate the cost of going to law school assuming they’ll get out and land in a big firm (in other words, making $160,000 per year). Not only are these jobs not available to most new lawyers, but the difference between big firms an smaller firms is striking. Indeed, “law school students who graduated in 2010 earn $84,111 on average during their first year.” Even this figure is “down 10% from 2009, according to the most recent available data from NALP.”
3. Law schools are struggling too. Law schools best interest is not in creating great lawyers. It’s in getting themselves to the highest US News ranking position available to them. This means they need to be careful with the numbers they present to the world, many of which are not favorable to them. So when a law school says 90% of its graduates are “employed” within 9 months of graduation, you have to ask what “employed” means. Even the average test scores of law school class members has been called into question. So there are many unanswered questions about the quality of information being provided to incoming law school classes.
And if these issues aren’t scary enough, there’s all that debt these students will need to pay off…