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The law school employment crisis

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I have a piece in TNR that tries to answer what ought to be a straightforward question: What percentage of graduates of the 198 ABA-accredited law schools are getting real legal jobs within nine months of graduation?

If a real legal job is defined as a permanent full-time job that requires a law degree, the answer appears to be something on the order of 30% to 35%. Of course this figure will vary enormously between schools, but given that the overall “employment” rate for their graduates reported by law schools is over 90%, it’s safe to say that the real rate is drastically lower than what individual schools are claiming it is, wherever they may be in the hierarchy.

The real rate is a problem for several reasons, the two most pressing being skyrocketing tuition and declining legal salaries. In constant inflation adjusted dollars, media annual law school tuition since 1985 has gone from $3582 at public schools to $17,757, and from $14,762 to $37,950 at private schools. (In other words public law schools cost more now than private ones did 25 years ago). The median law school debt incurred by students (not overall educational debt, let alone overall debt) is approaching six figures, and is above that already among private school grads (60% of ABA law schools are private).

Then there’s the salary situation. Legal services are being rationalized in ways that are driving down salaries, especially entry-level salaries. Accurate entry level salary information is very difficult to obtain (less than half of graduates report any salary information at all, and those that do are not anything like a representative sample), but it appears that only a minority of the perhaps one-third of law graduates who are getting real legal jobs are getting jobs with salaries that would allow a person to service a six-figure law school debt amortized over ten years (the traditional period) and still eat and pay rent.

Then there’s the matter of how many of the few legal graduates who are getting high paying real legal jobs are doing the kind of work they wanted to do when they went to law school. There’s a lot of data suggesting that associates at big law firms are currently even more miserable than usual, as firms increase billable hour requirements, as they attempt to maintain profits while under increasing pressure from cost-conscious clients.

One obvious question all this should raise is: Why does law school cost so much more than it did just a few years ago? It’s a question to which legal academics haven’t paid nearly enough attention.

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  • There’s a systematic problem of this kind in all areas of post-HS education. People go to college and grad school in order to be above average, but when 30% of the population graduates from college, the bottom of the educated pile won’t be far about average. When 10% of the population has post-grad degrees a similar dynamic is at work, especially because a certain proportion of the top positions (in business, sales, etc.) don’t require top credentials.

    So you end up with a big culturally-elite group which is economically non-elite. And people talk about how important cultural enrichment is, even if you have to go $100,000 in debt for it.

    And then, this culturally elite is the core of a widely-hated political faction which has been routinely defeated for 43 years now, and the victors have punished the losers by making education harder to get and putting the educated class in a permanent state of debt, like Populist-era farmers. (Young doctors usually have so much debt that they have little alternative but to fly into the arms of Big Med and become employees. That might be OK if Big Med weren’t blood-sucking parasites.)

    And then, there’s “lower taxes” and “we’re broke!”. We really don’t have enough money to pay for a lot of unproductive new elite units. (Or to put it differently, rather than wasting billions producing more elite snobs, we prefer to waste hundreds of billions dropping bombs on wedding parties.

    • Brad P.

      Who, WHO, will look out for our culturally-elite?

      If we don’t boost aggregate demand to make them economically elite as well, they are going to go Galt on us and take our culture with them!

      • If our cultural elites showed a capacity for bombing wedding parties they would be respected more.

        • Brad P.

          Strange, the cultural elites that are called neocons and the cultural elites currently dictating executive policy have shown a remarkable aplomb when it comes to blowing up weddings and breaking down doors.

          • At least seven of my school buddies took the neocon route, and they’re all doing very well for themselves. I took a very wrong turn in 1967.

            • Brad P.

              I took a very wrong turn in 1967.

              Only if you ignore the costs of conscience, I’m sure.

              • timb

                Paging Justice Bybee. One wonders if he sleeps very well

              • Holden Pattern

                One suspects his sociopathy lulls him to sleep at night with gentle songs of certitude.

          • timb

            You are making remarkable sense today, Brad. Keep it up

  • Pingback: Grim employment picture for law school grads « Sam Nelson()

  • Mikebdot

    Um, this is not just limited to law degrees. All college degrees’ costs have risen by approximately the same amount. I would have been six figures in debt if my folks hadn’t paid for my freshmen year. Only about $9k left to pay back! No wonder people are getting married and having kids later. They already pay one mortgage (I have been paying $630 a month for about 8 years now)!

    • djw

      I don’t have data handy, but I’m moderately confident the tuition increases in law schools have outpaced undergraduate tuition increases (especially, for undergraduate private tuition, when discount rate changes are taken into account).

  • I would love to see a thorough economic / political description of The University, in terms of who pays, who benefits, who controls, what the product is, etc., especially in its overall context among the other industries, and the status of its product among the other consumables there are.

    Someone or another, maybe remarked that social sciences are reluctant to analyze themselves, e.g. the economics of economics, the politics of political science, the sociology of sociology, etc.

    I’ve found that even to enumerate the payers-for, controllers-of, and beneficiaries-of higher education and the rest of the university is a daunting task.

    • mpowell

      If I was a state senator this would probably be my biggest concern. I would want a thorough budget review of the public universities in my state and I would be prepared to have heads roll… The state should do a better job continuing to subsidize this experience, but damn, there is no reason for the cost explosion we have seen. Sadly, I doubt many politicians care.

      • Vance Maverick

        I would want a thorough budget review of the public universities in my state [….] damn, there is no reason for the cost explosion we have seen

        Aren’t you rather anticipating the conclusion of that review you say you want?

        • mpowell

          Well, yes. The fact that I think costs are rising at an unsustainable and unnecessary rate is precisely why I think such a review should take place. The purpose for the review would be to determine why costs are rising and how to stop it. My two guess are administrative salaries (this would lead to the most heads rolling) and posh student amenities, but I really don’t know. I’m pretty certain it’s not teaching costs, though.

      • Brad P.

        Sadly, I doubt many politicians care.

        Of course they care, but they are balancing their concern between the banking industry, public sector unions/bureaucrats, students, and the feel-good myopia of making sure all students have access to higher education (and the onerous loans said access can carry).

      • DrDick

        A great deal of the cost explosion at public schools is a consequence of the decline in state support for higher education from an average of 70% to about 30% of the cost per student over the past 30 years. This has resulted in shifting the costs to students. Other costs have gone up as well, particularly technological costs. Administrative salaries have also dramatically increased over that time, though faculty salaries did not match inflation over that frame.

        • Brad P.

          A great deal of the cost explosion at public schools is a consequence of the decline in state support for higher education from an average of 70% to about 30% of the cost per student over the past 30 years.

          Can I see a source for this information?

          • bph

            Here is one public university

            But, from your point, the important thing is that there are still union employees on these campuses. I mean, only 4400 staff have been let go. That leaves a lot of people to be replaced by short term, at will contractors.

          • snarkout

            Brad, some of the relevant data is here (note slides 8 and 9 in particular). I haven’t confirmed DrDick’s numbers, but public higher ed tuition has widely outpaced inflation since at least 1980, while state funding has been below inflation over the same period, so I wouldn’t be at all surprised if that number is correct.

          • DrDick

            The original source was the Chronicle of Higher Education, I believe. The most recent source was my union rep in discussing current funding bills before our legislature. FWIW, here in Montana, the figure is currently about 18% of the cost per student.

          • djw

            Here’s an article about UW

            25 years ago: State pays 8K, student pays 1.5K

            Now, State pays 7K, student pays 9K

            Adjusting for inflation, UW is actually taking in 10-15% less per undergrad than 25 years ago.

            • Brad P.

              Thank you,

              From the article:

              It did so because it has had its taxpayer support cut so sharply that it had to go find money from somewhere else. So it’s admitting more students willing to pay the out-of-state rate of $25,000 a year versus the in-state rate of only $9,000.

              How in the world is UW finding so much surplus demand amongst out-of-state students that they are busting down the doors to pay $25,000?

              • djw

                Personally, while I consider UW to be a good school, I would not recommend anyone pay that kind of money to go to UW (or a similar school).

                That said, some students from wealthy families prefer the large university experience to the liberal arts college experience, and there simply aren’t that many private schools that meet that criteria–some of which aren’t actually any better than UW, and none of which except Stanford, which is competing for a different class of student anyway. Furthermore, many nearby states with ties to Washington, Seattle, and the region, don’t have any schools of UW’s calibre in-state (Montana, Idaho, Alaska, Oregon).

                Oregon and Colorado–schools that (with apologies to Rob) are generally understood to be of lower academic calibre than UW, persued a strategy along these lines a while ago to make up for decreasing state support. Here’s data on 2011 admissions–UW has always saved slots for in-state students, which historically meant you had to be much better academically to get in from out of state. Under the current shift, out of state students are still slightly higher profile academically.

                Finally, when I was an undergraduate at a state school in Washington (WWU, not UW), some of the out of state students managed to get residency by their junior year, thus switching to in-state tuition. You can’t do this if you’re a ‘typical’ college student (go home for the summers, parents pay most of the bill), but if you’re largely self-funding, and you actually move to Washington, you have a chance, or at least you used to. So for some portion of these students, this may be part of the calculus.

              • Brenda Helverson

                The UW also accepts a rather large number of foreign students. They don’t pay out of state tuition, they pay the full cost of their education. Nothing against foreign students, but this is a huge profit center and works against in-State students whose parents pay taxes to support the UW.

  • BigHank53

    Why does law school cost so much more than it did just a few years ago?

    Because the folks selling legal degrees have a line of folks waiting to buy ’em. Because they can charge more, and make more money. Didn’t you listen to Reagan at all? Making money is what this country’s all about, and private law schools and loan originators are selling shovels to gold-rush prospectors.

    Public schools, of course, have been left to shrivel on the vine because of dirty fucking hippies, or because it’s more fun to spend $75k locking somebody up than giving out ten full-ride scholarships.

    • chris

      Making money is what this country’s all about, and private law schools and loan originators are selling shovels to gold-rush prospectors.

      I think this gets to the heart of it. Some prospectors strike it big and most lose their shirts, but the shovel salesman makes steady money.

      In a free market system, risk flows to the people least able to appreciate that they are taking risk.

    • ploeg

      The investment of three years of your life to get such a degree doesn’t seem so bad if the alternative is serving up venti skinny lattes in a kiosk downtown. And the price might seem to be worth it if you think that you can use it to get a high-paying job that can’t be sent abroad or automated out of existence. (One might be mistaken in that belief, naturally, but it persists.)

  • Rob

    Isn’t the obvious answer that like business schools, law schools are profit centers for universities?

    • Paul Campos

      This was once true for some private law schools, but was never true for publics, and is increasingly not the case anywhere.

      • Halloween Jack

        What’s your source for that?

      • L2P

        I don’t think that’s right. UCLA brings in over $36M each year from its law school; I’ve never seen a reasonable estimate of its costs at over $30M – not including the admin load it covers, of course.

        • Paul Campos

          I haven’t seen UCLA’s budget but I’ve seen those of quite a few law schools, and I guarantee their operating costs are way higher than that.

          • Law Prof

            Paul,

            That may be true for some law schools with certain economic agreements and/or cost structure. But I can tell you with 99.999% certainty that my prior low-tier state law school was a huge profit center for that university. Every year the faculty saw the revenues and costs, and every year there was a huge sucking sound of hundreds of thousands of dollars towards University Admin (which did NOT handle most of our admin tasks). Unless the Dean had a second set of accounting books he kept in the safe, the money was going back to the University.

            • Paul Campos

              LawProf,

              A couple of things:

              (1) Universities legitimately charge law schools for their share of various university costs (utilities, maintenance, capital depreciation, security, centralized university services the law school uses, etc.). Of course this kind of accounting for indirect costs of operation can be abused, and I’m sure it was plenty of times in the past, especially at private law schools where using the school as a profit center was a viable option, when the costs of law school operation were much lower than they are today. But because of the rankings game that’s taken over in the last 20 years, which is essentially a negative-sum positional contest, it’s getting harder and harder for universities to extract profits from their law schools, because law school operating costs have shot through the roof at all levels of academia (Just one example: Stanford charges $47K a year in tuition but gets less than half of their operating budget from tuition).

              (2) Resident tuition was until relatively recently extremely low at most state schools, to a point that using state law schools as true profit centers wasn’t tenable. The University of Colorado was charging $3000 a year in resident tuition (in 2010 dollars) in 1981, and $6000 in 2010 dollars 1996. Now we’re charging nearly $30,000 and we’re definitely not a profit center for the university — quite the contrary.

  • Why does law school cost so much more than it did just a few years ago? It’s a question to which legal academics haven’t paid nearly enough attention.

    If they’d just ship back all the illegal academics there’d be jobs for all.

    • DocAmazing

      win

  • c u n d gulag

    Last year I read an article (column?) by a famous attorney who basically was telling people thinking about going to law school to forget it unless they could get into the most elite schools and were confident that they would pass with honors.
    I tried to google it, but I can’t find it. Sorry!

    What concerns me about this is law schools like Liberty, and ones of that ilk.
    While graduating from a top lever school gives you a reasonable shot at a job after graduating, getting a degree from a Libertly-like Conservative programs would have job guarantees due to Wingnut Welfare. Lesser law schools couldn’t offer that. So, if less people decide to go to law school, or more go to a Liberty (where they may or may not be weeded out for not being sufficiently Christian, or doctrinaire, or whatever), more of those that graduate from these Christianist legal mills will enter the work force and eventually worm their way from entry level Wingnut Welfare legal jobs into major corporations and our courts. Think of legions of Monica Goodlings in the courts and the meeting rooms of corporate America.

    Maybe thinking about this is crazy, what do you folks think?

    • djw

      getting a degree from a Libertly-like Conservative programs would have job guarantees due to Wingnut Welfare.
      I seriously doubt that’s actually the case. True for some graduates, certainly, but there’s not *that* much wingnut welfare to go around. And besides, separating rubes from their money has always been a significant part of the Falwell/Robertson MO.

      • hv

        I also doubt it. Wingnut welfare is not based on merit, not even wingnut merit. It is based on nepotism.

        Those jobs could even go to someone without a JD, or undergrad degree?, whose parents were big donors.

        • c u n d gulag

          Hey, I never said I was the ‘Shell Answer Man.” :-)

          I was just throwing that out there. Good points. Thanks.

  • elm

    A couple of questions about your analysis in the TNR: Why are you only counting “legal” jobs. Plenty of people go to law school with no intention of become lawyers. Right or wrong, there are people who believe a law degree is helpful if they want to work in the public sector or in some other non-legal capacity. I understand that trying to disentangle those who wanted a non-legal job from those who couldn’t find a legal job might be difficult, but you’re probably undercounting the number of law school students who are “successfully” employed.

    Second, why eliminate all temps? Temp work isn’t all underpaid, unless legal temps are different from other temps.

    Third, how are you counting clerkships?

    • Paul Campos

      (1) NALP reports that about 4% of grads have permanent full-time jobs for which a JD is “preferred” rather than required. People who go to law school for any reason other than to practice law are making a decision that makes no economic sense, unless they’re engaging in consumption rather than investment.

      (2) Temp work doesn’t pay enough to justify anything like the average law school tuition investment, even without discounting the work for its temporary nature.

      (3) Addressed in the TNR article.

      • elm

        Ah, sorry, missed that parenthetical on clerkships (got close to the end of the page and then just scrolled down to click on the next page, don’t know why.)

        Are the 4% with the preferred jobs being included in your numbers? I agree it makes it little sense to go to law school to be something other than a lawyer, but people do it and if they’re then able to get the job they set out to get, it strikes me as unreasonable to count that against the law school.

        Not as unreasonable as the law school’s approach of exlcuding those who couldn’t get jobs at all and had stopped looking, but stil. (I get why the federal unemployment numbers exclude them, but when you’re trumpeting “employment” it seems particularly egregious.)

        • In terms of what I’ve said and what Ploeg said, a lot of people go to law school because it’s the only way they can think of to be above average and escape from the hell of the lower middle class. (Some just go to law school in order to be not working, because they can.)

          These people often have no clear idea what kind of job they’ll end up in, and they may or not succeed in parlaying their degree in something worthwhile.

      • Bill Murray

        People who go to law school for any reason other than to practice law are making a decision that makes no economic sense

        and why is making economic sense important?

        • Paul Campos

          You have the makings of a very fine higher ed administrator.

        • Brad P.

          and why is making economic sense important?

          Or, who defines what makes economic sense, and why should we listen to them in the first place?

        • Very few people indeed go to law school because of their feelings of awe about the crystalline purity of The Law.

          • timb

            fewer would stay by the end of the of their 1L days

          • hv

            Some do go with the idea of helping causes or fighting “the man.”

            Plenty of HLS 3Ls are viscerally concerned over whether to sell out with a lucrative job, or keep it real with a “hippie” job.

            • Marek

              If by “plenty” you mean fewer than 5%, then yes.

        • Hogan

          Time to review this.

          “Do you realize you will be paying those loans back for the next twenty years, even if you decide you hate being a lawyer?”

    • I don’t think it is accurate to say that “*Plenty* of people go to law school with no intention of become lawyers.” In my law school class there were a couple of academics who took a year of their sabbaticals to do the first year, and then continued to their JD on a part-time basis. There were a couple of people with a background in labor relations who were there, in the words of one of them, “I’m tired of getting hosed by people who who think a law degree makes a difference in this work.” Pretty much everyone else reckoned on being a lawyer.

      I expect that it probably true that law schools at the higher ranked, or more prestigious universities attract students who are interested in law school as a credential, and that the so-called “law schools of opportunity” do not.

      You know what law schools are full of? People think that a JD is a terminal liberal arts degree. They aren’t particularly qualified for jobs that they would like to have, and law looks like an attractive option. Nobody tells them about the realities of law practice– or when they are told they brush it off. This is a serious problem for everyone. It is tough for the students, who have debt. It is tough on the legal marketplace, because there are more lawyers than there are jobs. It is tough on the universities, although it is probably the least tough on them. It is really tough on clients, because more choice is not necessarily a good thing when you are looking for legal representation.

      • elm

        That’s fair. I was only speaking from my second-hand experience with some of the top law schools. You’re probably right that the phenomenon of law school as a credential (I like that phrase) does not generalize to the vast bulk of law schools.

        And I certainly get the “I’m going to law school even though I have no idea what being a lawyer really means” issue: I teach political science, and many of my students plan on going on to law school but it always struck me that a whole lot of them had no idea why (and even less of an idea of how political science would help them once they were there.)

        On the other hand, it seems to me that fewer of my students have wanted to go to law school the past couple of years, so maybe the employment crisis is starting to trickle down a little bit.

        • djw

          And I certainly get the “I’m going to law school even though I have no idea what being a lawyer really means” issue: I teach political science,
          No kidding. I just sent the link to Paul’s article to all three of my classes this semester. I’m also planning an event in the fall on grad school options for PS majors beyond JD/PhD. But I’m fighting an uphill battle, probably against interest, insofar as political science enrollments are bolstered by people who (incorrectly, as far as I can tell) think it’s helpful to major in political science for law school admissions.

          • elm

            It’s definitely against interest. I try my best to tone down my anti-law school comments to my students knowing that if the secret ever got out the polisci degrees are in no way helpful for getting in or doing well in law school, there would be many fewer jobs available for political science professors.

          • bay of arizona

            As if there are a ton of options for PolSci majors that aren’t also open to any other social science major, much less more quantitative ones?

            I don’t think I have ever seen any job listing prefer political science (unless you count ‘public policy’).

          • anonymous

            It may not help admissions, but my poli sci major at the UW (especially the summer con law classes I took from some Canadian named Lemieux) was very helpful once I was actually in law school.
            Still working on getting full employment five years out, though.

  • mpowell

    One thing that I think would dramatically improve this situation would be to make higher education debt expungeable through bankruptcy. It was always bullsh*t in the first place, but the primary function of bankruptcy court is to identify the difference between a debtor with the income potential to support his debt and those without. There’s not reason college debt should be treated any differntly. If someone is struggling with HE debt 2 or 3 years after graduating, it is pretty obvious at that point that they aren’t faking it. And then force the universities to take at least some responsibility for the loans they are making. It’s morally the right thing to do and it might improve the economics of the situation dramatically as well.

    • Julia Grey

      The universities aren’t making the loans, are they?

  • whetstone

    My understanding is that this job crunch is a relatively recent thing. My wife went to an expensive, top-flight law school—the alma mater of our president—and graduated last spring. When she arrived, pre-crash, the students were basically guaranteed jobs in the $150k range. Like, the job placement people didn’t give the possibility of unemployment a second thought.

    Post-crash, people were screwed. There just wasn’t enough work to go around, in part because of the hiring binge firms went on during the housing bubble (transactional law, for obvious reasons, was flush). Friends of hers who graduated the year who got jobs didn’t have anything to do.

    Some of it, I think, can be blamed on the weird structure of law employment. For most post-graduation jobs, you start applying while you’re finishing, or finished. Not with law firms, or at least big corporate ones: you do a summer job with one firm, occasionally two, the year before your last year. And you get paid as an associate; my wife made more in a couple months than I make in a year, so they’ve made a substantial investment in you and are less likely rescind their offer, even if they don’t really need you when your job comes around. If you get hired in the beginning of your final year, you’re fine; if you don’t, you’re immediately fighting upstream because you’re out of the system, which just over-hired.

    Which puts both at a disadvantage, I think. Law firms have to predict market conditions a year and a half out; there aren’t many industries in which employees are hired that far before they actually start working. If the market doesn’t come around in the way they expect, you’ve got $150k employees with nothing to do (and whom you’ve already paid a yearly median income before their feet are officially in the door). My wife didn’t have enough to fill her time with for the first few months; she’s only now starting to hit her hourly expectations.

    And it puts the students at a disadvantage as well. Because of the disconnect between the market and hiring, a student can enter law school while the market seems great, as it did when my wife started—her class was led to expect they could all get well-paying jobs if they wanted them, and recent history bore that out, it wasn’t PR BS*—and then it can tank while you’re there.

    And if it tanks, and you don’t get a firm job, or even a summer job that puts you in the pipeline for one, you can fall between cycles. It’s just a strange system, and not one that’s well suited to respond to significant changes in the market.

    As to misery, that I’m more sanguine about. If you can avoid the golden handcuffs, you don’t have to stay too long in a big firm job.

    My wife and I pay about $6k a month in loans, about 6x what we pay for rent. After two years, we’ll have it down to a quittable level. After three, we’re hoping to have it all gone. Coming from someone in the journalism business, three years of doing what you have to do before getting to do what you want to do seems reasonable enough. If you stick to living as if your salary was the median income, you can get by with only a couple years of stressful, unpleasant work.

    *Sure, you can say they should have known better. But a lot of law school students are just out of college, 22-23 years old, never had a job.

    • Paul Campos

      Keep in mind that the job situation for Harvard law grads, difficult as it now is in certain respects, has almost nothing to do with the job situation of 90% to 99% of the graduates of about 180 of the other 197 ABA schools.

      • seeker6079

        This.

        Further, there has been surprisingly little comment here (save for Whetstone’s post) about the role of what we can call pre-jobs: the summer positions. Summer jobs are likely to go rapidly to those who are connected and it is those summer jobs which allow firms to eyeball the candidate for a permanent job. In some instances the summer jobs can be unpaid and so the student with private means is far better positioned than one who has to work at a non-legal summer job to pay the law school bills.

    • BigHank53

      –her class was led to expect they could all get well-paying jobs if they wanted them–

      Not limited to law degrees. Freshly minted chemical engineers were being hired at $45k in 1978; by 1983 the running joke was that the first question a new CE was asked at their interview was, “So, have you waited tables before?”

    • L2P

      Your wife is:

      A. Very lucky to have any sort of job (Harvard grads have nothing to to with most grads); and

      B. Going to have to fight like hell to do “what she wants to do.” If it isn’t “working at a big firm,” you might want to get used to the idea that public interest jobs are extremely uncommon, the public sector is literally not hiring, and in-house counsel is probably out for the next 5 years.

      I look at 30 resumes a day from ivy league grads desperate to leave a firm job and prosecute or do environmental work or voting rights or something. Good freaking luck – I’ve also got a dozen grads interning waiting for an opening. They aren’t golden handcuffs only because of the money, it’s also a career path you start walking down. Watch out.

      • whetstone

        Paul: No, I’m totally aware of that. We’re quite fortunate. Just pointing out how the law job crunch has effected the top of the market as well, and how the structural inefficiencies of law seem to have made it worse.

        L2P: Yeah, definitely. The squeeze at corporate law firms has made the public-interest market even more competitive. And while I tell my wife to keep an eye on city/state jobs–decent pay, better hours, good bennies, largely morally defensible work–there aren’t many governmental organizations doing much hiring.

        I guess there’s always lobbying….

      • seeker6079

        “the public sector is literally not hiring”

        I can’t speak for the USA but the public law jobs here in Canada are often quite noticably the domain of long-serving lawyers: they have their niche, they’ve been there twenty+ years and they are often coasting in jobs that are even more secure than union ones, with reasonable pay and great benefits and often few demands on one’s extra time. It’s sad, really.

  • mike in dc

    Speaking as a law student who’s about to graduate in 20 days, I’d have to say that this article is appreciated…even though it’s about 2 years late to the party. I’m going to wind up graduating in the top half of my class from a top 20 law school…and have zero employment prospects at the moment. Heck, I work as a support staffer at a major firm, and even they took a pass on me. There are really only about 3 pay tiers for new attorneys–“Big Law” associates making 140-160k, mid-sized firm and top-level government gigs paying 50-80k, and, well, “sh*t law” gigs paying 40k or less. Top job candidates who normally could expect big firm employment are now competing for the mid-level gigs, which is basically killing job prospects for almost everyone else. As an evening/part-time student in his early 40s(for whom law school was, in 2007, a calculated risk) with a mortgage to pay, a bottom tier gig is out of the question, but it puts me in a catch-22 situation(along with a lot of my peers), where in order to be able to get a decent entry-level gig, I essentially have to have already been doing similar work!
    In spite of all this, I do believe it will all work out in the long run. Believing otherwise would only make me miserable.

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  • timb

    4 part-time years at top 100 law school = 80,000 in debt

    starting salary minus benefits = 45,000

    Hah! I can’t decide if the joke’s on me for all the debt or if the joke’s on them, because I actually got a job!

    • mike in dc

      Only 80,000 in debt? Count your blessings, it could be much higher than that.

      • timb

        I went back to school at 35 after the other debts were paid and when I realized no one wanted me to dwell in their cubicle

  • hv

    Two words:

    journalism school

    J-school deans are weeping at the commencement addresses these days.

    • seeker6079

      Why? How hard can it be to teach people to be lazy stenographers?

  • Linnaeus

    I’ll be honest: while reading this post I couldn’t help thinking, “hey, law school grads, welcome to the party!”

    That said, being in the same boat as lot of other people doesn’t make the problem suck any less.

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  • Joe Bob

    Maybe this is peculiar to my locale, but law school enrollments have long been totally divorced from the job market. I live in a city with a Big 10 university, plus two other institutions offering advanced degrees. In addition to those, there is one standalone law school. So, four law programs all told: one public, three private.

    When my S.O. sat for the bar in 2006 she did so with about 800 other recently-minted JDs. The exam is held at the convention center because it’s one of the few places in town you get that many people seated at tables in one room. By contrast, the other local professional programs turned out around 35 architects, 150 MDs and 200 advanced engineering degrees. Seems a little lopsided, you think?

    There are not now, nor were there ever in recent memory, enough jobs in law to employ all of the graduates from local law programs. The metro area is 3.5 million people and there is simply not enough legal work to add 800 new lawyers to the workforce every year and keep them busy. In my S.O.’s pre-crash 2006 graduating class there were still people looking for jobs 6 to 12 months after graduation. The current lawyer oversupply of lawyers isn’t totally attributable to the Great Recession; the surplus has been building for a long time.

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