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The end of the law school scam and the limits of transparency

[ 136 ] April 17, 2014 |

Three years ago this week I published a piece in the New Republic, outlining the various ways in which the graduate employment rates law schools advertised were deeply misleading. At that time, only a handful of mostly elite schools published meaningful employment data: by contrast, the standard practice was to report a nine-month employment rate that aggregated all employment, legal and non-legal, full-time and part-time, temporary and long-term, school-funded and real, into one impressive-sounding percentage. (Indeed until that very spring law schools were even allowed to get away with excluding graduates who they claimed were not seeking employment from their calculations).

On top of that, schools routinely published “average” salary numbers that didn’t reveal the percentage of graduates — often consisting of a tiny and completely unrepresentative sample — that these “average” numbers represented.

After pointing out how a closer look at the real numbers would alter radically the impression prospective law students would have on their potential six-figure investment, I argued what one would have thought was a non-controversial position:

All of this suggests the extent to which prospective law students need more and better information. Of course, such information will make law school look like a far worse investment than it does at present. Still, if we assume that the point of academic work is to reveal the truth, rather than to engage in the defense of a professional cartel from which law professors benefit more than almost anyone else, then this work needs to be done.

There was in fact tremendous resistance from the law school establishment to requests for more and better public information (This was information which all law schools collected every year already, but again with a tiny handful of exceptions didn’t publish. That the information was already collected made arguments that it would be costly to supply it to the public frivolous on their face. This didn’t stop lots of schools from making that argument, however). Today, the reason for that resistance is even more obvious than it was in April of 2011: the hypothesis that more transparency would produce a big decline in law school applicants has now been tested, with unambiguous results.

This fall, around 37,000 to 38,000 people will enroll at ABA law schools. Taking the higher end of the estimate, this represents close to a 30% decline in what law school enrollments looked like before the law school reform movement successfully pressured the ABA Section of Legal Education and the Profession — which has tended to be controlled by deans and faculty from low-ranked schools, who had the most to lose from increased transparency — into forcing schools to disgorge something resembling realistic employment numbers (the ABA still refuses to mandate any publication of salary data however).

The decline in applicants has been even sharper — nearly 40% — as law schools have slashed their admission standards to keep enrollments from cratering further.

Meanwhile schools have been cutting prices: it’s quite likely that average effective per capita tuition — sticker tuition minus discounts — is actually going to be lower in constant dollars for this fall’s entering class than it was for students who matriculated three years ago. The combination of far smaller entering classes and lower real tuition has forced many schools into serious cost-cutting mode, after decades of largely unrestrained extravagance.

Faculty-student ratios actually fell in half between 1978 and 2011 despite much larger enrollments, while administrative positions proliferated far faster than faculty lines. Faculty salaries nearly doubled on average in real terms, while administrative compensation skyrocketed in ways that made faculty raises look modest by comparison. Many schools replaced perfectly adequate facilities with increasingly palatial physical plants, in a sort of perverse amenities-based arms race for tuition dollars.

Of course all this had to be paid for, and it was, mainly by tuition tripling at private law schools and increasing five times over for resident students at public law schools. This has produced a situation in which the average educational debt of law students graduating this spring — that is, members of the last entering class before the law school reform movement began to have an impact on the structure of legal education in this country — is around $150,000, while the median salary, including salaries of zero, for this group will likely be well under $50,000.

Now that the party is mostly over, we can see that the push for transparency has accomplished a great deal. If — and of course it is very much an if — the market for legal jobs remains at its present level (the percentage of GDP dedicated to legal services in America has declined by a third over the past quarter century), then it’s possible that around three quarters of people enrolling law school this fall will get jobs as lawyers, rather than slightly more than the one half of all graduates who have gotten such jobs, liberally defined, over the past few years. (This article lays out and discusses the facts supporting the assertions in the previous three paragraphs).

This is being celebrated in some quarters as the epitome of a “great time to go to law school,” which, I suppose, is a reflection of among other things the effect of drastically lowered standards (Imagine if a quarter of all medical school graduates weren’t getting jobs as doctors, and this was treated as an advertisement for what a great time it was to go to medical school!).

But it does — or rather it would, let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves — represent a great improvement over the recent status quo. Huge problems, of course, would remain, even in a world in which “only” 25% of law graduates weren’t getting legal jobs, since among other things the vast majority of entry-level legal jobs don’t pay anywhere close to enough to service $150,000 of educational debt on the terms under which that debt is supposed to be repaid.

Still, it’s real progress. In a sense, one could say that we have reached the end of the law school scam — in the sense that young people who enroll in law school today have every opportunity to avoid being misled about the prospects that await them. Of course this is no excuse for continuing to engage in aggressive sales tactics that sound more like a condo time-share pitch than a disinterested scholarly evaluation of the evidence.

In other words, we’re moving toward a situation — we’re not there yet, mainly because of the cultural lag in recognizing what has been happening to the legal profession, i.e., the Legally Blonde Syndrome — in which law students will be no more prone to overestimate their career prospects than Ph.D. candidates are now prone to overestimate their odds of getting a tenure track job (I”m assuming here that the latter don’t tend to indulge in too much optimism and confirmation bias, although I have to admit that this assumption isn’t actually based on anything other than my own optimistic wish that this is the case. My co-bloggers and many commentators are in a position to confirm or correct this impression, and I hope they do so).

That is all to the good, but, in terms of genuine reform, it’s very much half or perhaps a third of a loaf. Genuine reform goes far beyond even optimal transparency (which is still far away in the law school world), because the crisis of the American law school is just a particularly sharp example of a far broader crisis: that created by an economy that simply doesn’t produce anything like enough appropriate (halfway decent-paying, skills based) jobs for our increasingly educated, and increasingly disaffected, younger generations.

The real scam, in other words, is the contemporary structure of our society. Making that transparent is a goal towards which the law school reform movement is playing its own small part.

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  1. scott says:

    “The real scam, in other words, is the contemporary structure of our society. Making that transparent is a goal towards which the law school reform movement is playing its own small part.”

    Bravo, sir. I can only hope that people addressing other sectors of our economy do as well as you have in disclosing the extent of the looting and our ongoing employment scams.

    • Gwen says:

      Gee Officer Krupke, have some sympathy for JDs like me…

    • BamBam says:

      I think the law school scam will have ended when real student loan reform occurs.

      This means, at a minimum, limits on the amount that can be borrowed–say 20K per year–along with penalties for schools with high default rates and some basic underwriting so that such schools lose eligibility for student loans when default rates get above a certain level. Making student loans dischargeable in BK after a certain number of years would be nice, but is politically unlikely, so I would settle for the first three. (And by “default” I also mean arrangements like IBR/PAYE and forbearances which are really soft defaults.)

      Until student loan reform occurs, there will still be enough gullible individuals to act as conduits to funnel all that federal student loan money to at least a good handful of bottom-feeding law schools.

      • Unemployed Northeastern says:

        I don’t see ANYONE focusing on controlling costs. There are movements to repeal GradPLUS loans, but only as a means to reopen private lending and the SLABS market. There have been limits to repeal PSLF and roll back PAYE, but only as a means to screw over students and keep the treasury flush. The trouble is that student loans keep higher education rolling, and make all the actors who matter – government, lenders, think tanks, universities – astounding amounts of money. The notion that we will see Chilean-style top-down student loan reforms anytime soon is risible, sadly.

        BTW, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, 50% of all outstanding student loans are currently in forbearance or deferral. Of the other 50% that are in repayment, 31% are currently delinquent, meaning more than 90 days late. That means that only 69% of those 50% of in-repayment loans are currently making full and timely repayments, a figure which I believe also includes everyone on ICR/IBR/PSLF/PAYE. In other words, only 34.5% of all outstanding loans are in timely and full repayment – including those in loan forgiveness programs. It’s an unmitigated disaster.

        • BamBam says:

          Thanks for providing those statistics; I’ve been wondering about the actual percentages. I agree it is a complete disaster, and the federal govt. is goosing the numbers to make the true default rate look a lot lower than it really is.

          One would think that liberals (and I lean in that direction myself) would be all over this, as it is a classic example of young, poor, and naïve people who are suffering so that members of the upper class can be enriched at taxpayer expense.

          • Unemployed Northeastern says:

            What do IBR and PAYE do, exactly, beyond keeping students who can’t make their payments out of default?

            Exactly.

            • Joe Bob says:

              One of the underreported features of PAYE is that it limits the amount of interest that can be capitalized to the loan if your payments aren’t enough to cover interest. It’s capped at 10% of the orginal principal balance. There are some additional benefits where, if you are in qualifying circumstances, the government will not capitalize interest during the first 3 years of repayment and during deferrals and forbearances.

              It’s pretty nuts that negative amortization loans are considered toxic when it comes to mortgages (Which is secured debt!) but it happens all the time with student loans.

              • Unemployed Northeastern says:

                That’s one of the reasons why some Republicans want to get rid of PAYE and only have the old terms of IBR, which is not so generous in limiting capitalized interest.

          • maxx785 says:

            “One would think that liberals (and I lean in that direction myself) would be all over this, as it is a classic example of young, poor, and naïve people who are suffering so that members of the upper class can be enriched at taxpayer expense.”

            Why would anyone still think this? The incredible number of young people whose lives have been wrecked by taking out NON-DISCHARGEABLE loans to pay for their education is out there for all to see.

            But those who earn their living from these wrecked lives refuse to see it because … SELF-INTEREST.

            They are scam artists who talk politically correct talk (as an external and an internal ‘beard’), but walk a life-wrecking walk because that’s how they pay their bills.

            If student loans were dischargeable in bankruptcy, no one’s life would be wrecked. But if student loans were dischargeable in bankruptcy, tuitions would plummet, and so would the scam artists’ compensation.

            Better one thousand wrecked lives than a politically correct scam artist not drive a BMW.

        • T.E. Shaw says:

          Citation? I see a general top-line delinquency rate of 11.5% from the Fed Bank (which would translate to 23% of a hypothetical half of debtors), but no breakdown.

          • Unemployed Northeastern says:

            The Liberty Street Economics Blog division of the FRBNY was dissatisfied with the *official* delinquency rate, since it incorporates the 50% of student loans that are in forbearance/deferral and therefore cannot be delinquent. Measuring only student loans that have entered repayment, they estimated last spring that the “real” delinquency rate is 31%.

            I don’t have the link to last spring’s report, but its 2012 predecessor is available here – http://libertystreeteconomics.newyorkfed.org/2012/03/grading-student-loans.html#.U1Avx8tOUdU – and about halfway down that page, goes through the steps they took to arrive at a 2012 *real* SL delinquency rate of 21% and a *real* past due balance rate of 27%.

  2. Jojo says:

    Thank you Paul. You probably get the stink-eye from just about everyone in legal education except Brian T. and Deb M.

    The touts were out in full effect since April 1, and I suspect this is coordinated. Chemerinsky didn’t just submit the editorial to the NYT and have it published the next week — there was behind the scenes lobbying for it.

    To me that means a few things: (1) The establishment is threatened; (2) the truth is spreading (albeit slowly) into the ever-shrinking American middle class; (3) enrollment numbers are going to be OMG! bad in a number of schools this year, as the distribution of the 37,000 will not be uniform; (4) we’re about 2 years away from 5 to 10 unnecessary law schools shutting their doors; and (5) law school will no longer be viewed as catchall ‘social justice school’ as it has since the early 1970s, but rather a professional school focused on the study of, the rule of, and the practice of law. This may eventually lead to fewer disaffected graduates, wannabe social justice workers and wannabe lawyers alike.

    • MacK says:

      The same thought occurred to me – I also wondered how the person who Chemerinsky called to get his op-ed into the NYT is feeling now, since it was made extraordinarily clear that the fact checking was bad and the article full of near outright lies. I suspect he won’t be welcome back.

      The important dates for OpEd responses though are at the point where prospective students are looking at putting down their tuition deposits, looking for an apartment or group house near the law school and maybe quitting a job to go to law school – May-June I think. In stoking this controversy too soon, Chemerinsky, Freedman, Ben Barros etc, may have struck too soon, because that is roughly when the responsive op-eds will show up.

      • Just Dropping By says:

        I also wondered how the person who Chemerinsky called to get his op-ed into the NYT is feeling now, since it was made extraordinarily clear that the fact checking was bad and the article full of near outright lies. I suspect he won’t be welcome back.

        Do you think that whoever was responsible for placing that piece is even aware that it’s being ripped for bad fact checking and”near outright lies”? And even if that person is aware, why do you think that would inhibit the NYT from publishing anything else Chemerinsky chooses to submit to them?

        • MacK says:

          I think they are. Someone called in a favour, used some influence, recommended they take an op-ed, said that Chemerinsky was a great guy. When you do that there is a basic rule – don’t cause any embarrassment or blowback. There will be a lot of embarrassment at the NYT, which will blowback on the favour caller…

        • Guggenheim Swirly says:

          Do you think that whoever was responsible for placing that piece is even aware that it’s being ripped for bad fact checking and”near outright lies”?

          All that person would have to do is check the Comments section; of course, there is no guarantee that they would bother.

      • Barry says:

        “The same thought occurred to me – I also wondered how the person who Chemerinsky called to get his op-ed into the NYT is feeling now, since it was made extraordinarily clear that the fact checking was bad and the article full of near outright lies. I suspect he won’t be welcome back.”

        Has there ever been a case where anybody in the NYT hierarchy expressed regret for lies pleasing to the establishment?

        Note that Judith Miller set a record for front-page stories which had to be retracted, and even then she wasn’t fired until it turned out that she was acting as a secret highly-partisan conduit for leaking classified information to destroy a critic of the administration.

  3. Bathsheba Boldwood says:

    Duke: The lights are growing dim Otto. I know a life of crime has led me to this sorry fate, and yet, I blame society. Society made me what I am.
    Otto: That’s bullshit. You’re a white suburban punk just like me.
    Duke: Yeah, but it still hurts.

    Repo Man (1984)

  4. Jojo says:

    It should be noted that the touting of law school is unseemly, and will have perverse effects. The smart students will smell the bullshit and wonder if law school really is a good path, why do the titans of academia feel it necessary to sniff out the Glengarry leads? Why are they publishing a column length infomercial in the paper of record? Why are they preaching to the choir in law school trade publications? It smells desperate.

    If the touting hurts them with the smart money, the defensive tone of the pitch and the whining about how conventional wisdom is out to get them hurts recruiting of the yeomen. It reinforces the extremely recent conventional wisdom that law school is for suckers and marks. No one wants to be a mark.

    So who does does the bitching, pleading, and lying convince? Those who’ve always wanted to go. Those who are reaching to go due to their subpar academics. Those who are easily duped.

    This year has been the toughest ever to get into the most competitive colleges. That there’s a drop off in law school applications is telling. The disconnect exists because the smart money realizes that law school is a scam.

    • postmodulator says:

      Why are they publishing a column length infomercial in the paper of record?

      Sort of a version of the political maxim, “If you’re explaining, you’re losing.”

      • Barry says:

        Think of it as advertising, not a political campaign thing.

        Jojo, they’re advertising for the same reason that any seller advertises – to get paying customers.

  5. Former Editor says:

    I can’t believe I’m writing this, but I think your take on the state of transparency is actually optimistic. I don’t really think we are yet at the point where “young people who enroll in law school today have every opportunity to avoid being misled about the prospects that await them.” Much of the data that is still out there is purposefully ambiguous and that ambiguity is exploited in media outlets more likely to reach prospective students by those looking to fill seats.

    As you note, the ABA data does not reflect information about salaries and debt levels. As you informed me on a earlier thread, the data reported by the schools is not actually checked by anyone at the ABA (an open invitation for gamesmanship). More, even the data categories that are disclosed seem on some level purposefully designed to allow schools to mislead. For example, ABA directions permit any sort of employment at a firm to count in the x students placed in firms of y size categories on the ABA reports. Well paid associate position? Check. Temporary doc review? Check. Paralegal? Check. Receptionist? Check.

  6. My $0.02 says:

    I’m not sure that entering PhD students are any less optimistic about their chances of a good career outcome than are entering JD students. Clueless early twenty-somethings are pretty much the same across fields.

    But I am sure that two or three years in, when they see their older colleagues’ experiences on the job market and understand how much it sucks to be 35 and consigned to a never ending string of poverty-level temp jobs scattered across the country, they’ve usually just wasted their time. Not $150k.

    • Unemployed Northeastern says:

      I’d say there is at least as much negativity about (liberal arts) PhD programs online and in places like The Chronicle of Higher Education and Inside Higher Ed than there is about law school in places like TLS and the ABA Journal. The plight of un/underemployed PhDs and the overall adjunctification of higher ed – 70% of all professors nationwide now – are the subject of almost daily exposes and feature-length articles. Take a look at “From PhD to Welfare,” which was put out a few years ago by the Chronicle, and concerns itself with gainfully employed PhDs working as adjunct professors.

      • edwoof says:

        The problem with graduate programs is that there are very few statistics available concerning specific programs and the various university departments don’t really follow their graduates unless they are doing something impressive that will market the department.

    • Funkhauser says:

      +1. Many, many arrive at a top PhD program expecting to land a tenure-track job, at least in the social sciences.

      After two or three or five years, it’s obvious who’s getting a job and who’s not. Those on the bubble can fight hard if one really, really wants it and doesn’t mind living somewhere terrible with a 4-4 teaching load. Even that window may be closing soon as adjunctification spreads.

      Half my incoming cohort didn’t finish or opted out of academia, but they went on their way with no debt. They’re also people who were smart enough to get into a top PhD program (political science, flagship state university), so they have skills to work in other fields.

      Kids who could only get into a non T-14 law school, leaving with six-figure debt, are in a whole ‘nother boat of pain.

      And another thanks to Campos for fighting this fight.

      • steve says:

        I can’t seem to disabuse folks applying to PhD programs from their notion that they are definitely going to get a tenure-track academic job because they are smart and work hard. I have had more success hammering into them the idea that they should never pay for a PhD program (the best programs pay your way and you are smart enough and work hard enough enter the best programs right?). So maybe I am at least mitigating the damage

        • cpinva says:

          ” (the best programs pay your way and you are smart enough and work hard enough enter the best programs right?).”

          and gosh darn it, people like you!

          oh, wait, sorry, wrong show.

    • NewishLawyer says:

      Of course it was seeing a never-ending temping or the prospect of it that caused me to go into law school.

      I was 24, trying to be a theatre director, and doing freelance proofreading and temp jobs. On one gig, I met a guy who was somewhere in his 40s and extremely bitter. He was a writer who never got out in time. Once during the gig he said “I think that tooth died. I guess I don’t have to go to the free dental clinic now.”

      I stayed doing theatre for a few more years but that statement left a mark on me. To be fair, I’ve also met absolute misfits who would be miserable with a 9 to 5 while temping and seemed like happy bohemians or at least put on a good show.

      The world is not kind of the somewhat impractical. I sometimes go to young Jewish professional events in SF and a lot of the people there are cool and nice but they have a relentless practicality that I marvel at. They knew from day one to major in stuff like business/marketing/finance, accounting, engineering, computer science, etc. I maybe met one guy who majored in architecture but ended up in finance. I sort of marvel at their practicality. What is in their brains that is not in mind? What memos did they receive?

      The same sort of goes for Tech 2.0. I look at talk of disruption and apps as largely being snake-oil and maybe it is but you still have people who are making good money and being pumped with V.C. (for now at least)

      This of course raises the questions about what a stable and secure economy would look like as opposed to a boom-bust cycle. Maybe Thomas Pinkerty is right and the mid-20th century was the exception and not the rule of economic life.

      • Unemployed Northeastern says:

        Business is almost always a fluff major. It’s like communications but with less concentration on writing in proper sentences. It just happens to be the major du jour, which is an incredibly important thing to be when HR software auto-rejects everyone who is not the major du jour.

        As for Tech 2.0, the only stable thing about it are the VC companies, and getting a job at one of them is basically the same process as being a law professor: Ivy or equivalent undergrad, 2-4 years at a bulge bank or MBB, HBS/SBS/Wharton, VC.

        • Denverite says:

          It’s been a while since I looked at majors, but I thought some of the quant-heavy business majors (basically finance and maybe MIS) were a bit more than fluff? Though students with decent math backgrounds would still be advised to major in harder-but-related fields typically offered in the engineering or comp sci schools, like operations research or management science.

          • NewishLawyer says:

            A semi-anecdotal example. I just finished reading a book called Paying for the Party: How College Maintains Inequality. The book studies a group of women at Indiana University from move-in day to post-grad (or drop-out). The women were from all socio-economic backgrounds but were assigned to the same floor in a a “party dorm.”

            The authors mentioned that the richer students (termed socialites) were able to major in “business-lite” subjects like Event Planning, Interior Decorating, Sports Broadcasting, and then use familial connections to get jobs in New York City. The authors said that women choose these majors because the actual business school required courses in calculus and finite mathematics* while the but the business lite majors did not.** The lite majors allowed the women to focus on socializing and building connections instead of hitting the books.

            *To be fair, I got rid of my math requirement at Vassar by taking Intro to Psych.

            **There were a lot of snippy remarks about the socialites and the business-lite majors (which didn’t exist at more elite public universities or the Ivies) in the book.

          • Unemployed Northeastern says:

            Quant-heavy business majors are a vanishingly small percentage of all business majors. Remember, most business/finance majors aren’t at Chicago or MIT or getting finance concentrations in their Economics BS program at Penn. Most business majors – which are about 1/5 of all college students these days – are at Whatever University and Southnorthern State U, handling about as much math as one would expect from their 480 SAT-M scores.

            • Denverite says:

              Well, as a lawyer with a now-decades-old SAT-M score of 800 (and an undergrad major to match), maybe the people I hung out with in college were not representative.

              • Unemployed Northeastern says:

                It’s rather likely;-) According to studies like Academically Adrift, business majors gain the fewest critical thinking/analysis/writing skills of any college major.

                • MAJeff says:

                  I was in a session with some folks from the AACU about some completion agenda project they’re working to implement with community colleges. They were going on about the value of a liberal education, and they came out with a slide that “employers want people with critical thinking and problem solving skills…..the same skills necessary for citizenship.”

                  I thought it was a fantastic moment about how clueless educational consultants (grifters like the rest of them, it seems) are with this shit. Businesses want problem-solving resources. They most certainly do not want any kind of critically engaged citizenship from their resources. (The only “citizenship” they want is the forced volunteerism they can use for PR.)

              • cpinva says:

                “Well, as a lawyer with a now-decades-old SAT-M score of 800 (and an undergrad major to match), maybe the people I hung out with in college were not representative.”

                ok, I didn’t get quite an 800, on my also decades old SAT-M, but it was still well north of the average. I majored in accounting, and pretty much all of the 300-400 classes I took focused very heavily on critical thinking and analytical skills. to a very large degree, that’s what separates a cpa from a bookkeeper.

                given the nature of the cpa exam, I can’t imagine anyone, who took only “lite” classes, qualifying to sit for it, much less passing it. good communication skills are also a requirement of the profession.

                • Anonymous says:

                  I too majored in accounting (only had a 670 Math score back in the early 70′s . . but still put me in the top 4% nationally I believe), and when I graduated from my State’s flagship, I too felt like I had learned a whole lot, and started out working for the Big Eight. When I went to law school, and then into litigation, I quickly realized how much further ahead of the game I was over my poly-sci . . pre-law . . even science majors.

                • Guest says:

                  747 math SAT. 800 math SAT Ii from the late 1960s. The information gap landed me at a T5 law school

            • When I went to the Harvard of the Midwest(Wash U in St Louis, as they style themselves) there was a statistics class that was for people in the hard sciences and business to take from the Math Dept. Light on theory, heavy on practical application, and it included punch-card programming of simple problems to be run on the mainframe on the ground floor of the math building.

        • edwoof says:

          “Business is always a fluff major.”

          It depends…. Management and marketing are kind of fluffy but other concentrations such as logistics, entrepreneurship or quantitative analysis require a lot of hard work. Now, because business is (1) very popular, (2) the current emphasis is on post graduation employment opportunities rather than education, and (because of 1 and 2), (3) universities have figured out that they can charge higher undergrad tuition to business majors, most business schools have a separate application process after the first year of college. Because of the additional admission requirements, the brighter students are enrolling in business schools.

      • Mr. McGuire says:

        What memos did they receive?

        Plastics.

      • Tyro says:

        I sort of marvel at their practicality. What is in their brains that is not in mind? What memos did they receive?

        I don’t know if it was anything like that from me. I knew I wanted to be a computer scientist and realized that I was not going to make it as a physicist. I saw a lot of people coming out of college with no direction and ending up in menial positions. Granted, I spent a lot of time in graduate school, but I saw sooner than you did the consequences of not “making it” in the arts/humanities world and didn’t want to end up in a “failure to launch” situation.

        At the same time, I genuinely like scientific fields and scientific thinking and didn’t just do computer science because I wanted a future writing enterprise software as a means to getting a mortgage on a nice house.

        I think the other part of it came from the idea that I didn’t like being “exploited” during my workday. Like if I was going to do highly specialized work, I wasn’t going to do something for low wages (this why I avoided academia in the biological sciences and though people in the non profit world were getting screwed or living off trust funds I didn’t have access to). Even now, sometimes I think, “for all the hours I work, I could be doing this for more money as an orthopedic surgeon.”

  7. MacK says:

    However, I would suggest that recent articles have lead me to wonder is there a coordinated pushback in progress. I recognize that Erwin Chemerinsky (New York Times) may have been encouraged to write his article by the likely threat to UC Irvine’s survival, that Bernie Burk at Widener would have a similar motivation, while a Sales/Admissions dean like Steve Freedman must be under sales target pressure – while Drexel, which hosts and effectively sponsors The Faculty Lounge, is very likely to close. Still the timing makes me wonder is there coordination going on, an effort to try to create materials to encourage waverers to enroll today…

    A lot of law schools have to be in trouble by now. It is extraordinarily hard to see how they will cope with a 40% decline in enrollment and an even larger decline in actual per student revenue when discounting and increased financial aid is considered. Law schools which used to throw off between 20-40% of their revenue to their host institutions general fund are now going, begging cup in hand, looking for subsidies. The entitled behavior of many of their faculty (see e.g., Oregon Law Professor Robert Illig or the arrogance if Drexel’s Lisa Tucker McElroy is hardly helping.

    It is now perhaps two years since I put together a list of factors that would place a law school high on a “death watch list.” They are still relevant – I do think that once the first Law School “crosses the Rubicon,” or maybe I should say “crosses the Styx,” it will not longer be considered embarrassing to close a law school, but rather a prescient decision by a university’s management. Rather than opening a law school being fashionable, the new trend will be to “cut ones losses” by either closing the school, or merging it out of existence. The factors I suggested were:

    • “turkey’s voting for Thanksgiving/Christmas” – stand alone law schools will usually close later unless they are “for profit” because the Dean and faculty would be voting for unemployment.
    Schools that are part of bigger parent institutions are more vulnerable because the host institution can usually make the decision.
    value realised in closing – can a parent school realize value by repurposing or selling facilities – so does the school have either a building on a crowded space limited main campus, or a high value facility that can be sold downtown?
    Size of the law schools own dedicated money endowment. Universities have general endowments and their constituent schools have dedicated endowments – the law school may blow through its money endowment before closing (but may want to use some for severance.) Inter alia, some gifts to law schools are in the form of buildings – which do not necessarily have a cash endowment to pay for upkeep and so cost money.
    large recent tuition hikes – a sign of financial desperation in the current market
    low reputation and low ranking, in particular a significantly lower ranking than the parent institution (i.e., is it a drag on the parent institutions prestige;
    The degree to which the school is a for-profit school. This may be because it is a private for profit school (see e.g., Cooley), or
    because the school has been transparently operated as a “cash cow” by the parent institution. Dairy farmers faced with a cow that ceases to yield milk generally don’t feed it – they send it to McDonalds;
    Controversy, i.e., there is a reason why McElroy stfu after her initial gaffs, her Dean probably begged;
    Recency – the school has not been around long enough to build up wealth alumni and powerful friends (and in the case of UC Irvine – will the UC system have to make choices between Irvine and another longer existing UC law school);
    Is it a low ranking private, especially with private higher ranking schools in same metro-area;
    Is it a low ranking public in state with multiple public law schools;
    Is there an easy way to close it – so with Rutgers and Widener just close one campus and merge the student bodies– or in New York, Chicago, Philadelphia and several other cities, just do a cross town merger, shedding excess faculty and transferring existing students (this will happen a lot.)
    Is its ABA accreditation in danger - this is longer term and speculative, but some schools have lowered their admission standards so low that it is hard to see enough of their graduates passing bar exams to meet the requirements for accreditation.

    • Unemployed Northeastern says:

      Re: coordinated law school sales pitches. Remember, a lot of the law school booster think you and I and Campos and Nando have weekly keggers in the hollowed-out volcano where we map out our nefarious plans against the pursuit of academic intellectualism and jurisprudential truth.

      My dark horse wager is still on Cardozo going first, if only because parent university Yeshiva is weeks from being out of cash on hand unless it sells off large parts of itself or declares financial exigency to dip into the restricted portion of its endowment.

      • MacK says:

        I they only knew that you mix a mean martini (but that bathtub gin is rough.) Seriously, I actually do not spend much time commenting – it is sort of a look-away thing when busy that helps me think about other stuff – that and mild-dyslexia explains my appalling proof-reading.

        • Unemployed Northeastern says:

          My secret is that it’s just a big glass of vodka.

          I spend more time than I should, but one tires of applying to bullshit jobs online which will auto-reject you for being too qualified, too inexperienced, having a liberal arts undergrad major, or for being unemployed. Apply to 1 job, apply to 1,000 jobs – it really makes no frigging difference. You won’t hear back from any of them.

          Long-term unemployment and the subsequent reenactment of the end of Flowers for Algernon that it produces is my excuse for poor proofreading. Long-term unemployment makes you stupid, no matter how many books you read or things you write.

      • MacK says:

        Consider an additional point – the Brookdale Center, Cardozo’s building is a classic 1910, 11 Story Office Building at the corner of 5th Avenue and 12th Street. It is a nice piece of real estate, with the extra detail that the rest of the block it sits on along 5th Avenue is low-rise. It is a major real estate asset for Yeshiva – they could raise hundreds of millions by selling it. The hall of residence – the Alabama at 15 East 11th Street, another pre-war building, has to also be worth a small fortune.

        So there may be a real incentive for a troubled Yeshiva to close Cardozo – the real estate market.

    • spoilers here says:

      that Bernie Burk at Widener

      Ben Barros.

    • Barry says:

      “• “turkey’s voting for Thanksgiving/Christmas” – stand alone law schools will usually close later unless they are “for profit” because the Dean and faculty would be voting for unemployment.”

      I think that the first to go will in fact be some stand alone law schools. Not voluntarily, but if they are operating in the red, and have no endowment[1], the banks will not loan them money except in direct mortgages on estimated retail resale value.

      [1] I’m guessing that for-profit schools have no endowments (the investors take all profits), and that the stand alone schools have small to no endowments. The latter because there’s nobody in a central U admin keeping the law school administration from taking all profits for themselves.

      • MacK says:

        Oh I agree – when they run out of money. But that may take a while, some have cash to burn through – their endowments. By contrast, law schools like Drexel may not have a big dedicated endowment.

        • CBR says:

          Endowment helps, but only if it’s non-restricted. Even financial exigency will generally not allow a school to dip into the restricted endowment. So, for example, Lon Morris College could file for bankruptcy and go through liquidation while its restricted endowment remained relatively intact, and could not even be used to pay the administrative fees for the bankruptcy process. I think there is a bankruptcy crisis coming for small colleges (some of which are hurting in part because the former law school cash cow became a liability instead). The combination of increased tuition, “merit” scholarships, and capital debt is creating an ugly spiral.

      • CBR says:

        I agree–and the for-profits really can’t legally have endowments (unless they have a related non-profit “foundation” with a specialized mission). But I think the school’s debt is more important than school endowment–a school with little or no endowment–but no debt–can usually cut costs enough to keep running. Those who have taken on more debt (e.g. that pretty new building) are likely to be in more trouble, and even having a reasonable endowment might not help, if the endowment is restricted. This may be a problem for some standalones, but may also be a problem for private colleges where the parent faces the same cost problems.

    • BamBam says:

      Cooley is actually a non-profit school. Of course I use that term advisedly, as plenty of people are profiting very well from it (including the dean, who makes a mid-six-figure salary). But it is officially a non-profit, which shows how meaningless that term can be.

      • UPMC says:

        But it is officially a non-profit, which shows how meaningless that term can be.

        Works for us. Hell, we’re not even an employer!

      • williamockham says:

        The term “non-profit” serves only two purposes, tax status and public relations. As an analytic tool is is useless. A better analysis is that every economic organization throws of a surplus above its expenses. In “for profit” entities the surplus is dedicated to the owners (usually partners or shareholders). In a non-profit they are distributed to the most powerful stake holder.

    • concerned_citizen says:

      ” I recognize that Erwin Chemerinsky …. Bernie Burk …. while a Sales/Admissions dean like Steve Freedman must be under sales target pressure ”

      Bernie Burk has for years been critical of the LS industrial complex. A year or so ago at PrawfBlog he wrote a series of highly factual articles outlining that there were just too many LS students/grads for the market, and that the cost of LS was just too high.

  8. Unemployed Northeastern says:

    Well, as IU Business professor Eric Rasmusen phrases it over on TaxProf at http://taxprof.typepad.com/taxprof_blog/2014/04/law-prof–1.html#comments,

    “Then we won’t have all these silly young people going to law school in the belief that it will help them get a job”

    • BoredJD says:

      What the hell is he talking about? Why does anybody seek out higher education or choose a “higher-ranked” school over another? It’s the signaling value, stupid.

      It amazes me how out of touch these guys are, Does he really think that if his CV didn’t read Yale, Yale, MIT, he’d still be a professor? He’s right that a lot of people don’t go to school to “learn stuff,” but he’s wrong that letting people choose to read the law is going to stop people going to law school.

      • Unemployed Northeastern says:

        I wonder if he thinks the same thing about his MBA students at IU…

        ” Does he really think that if his CV didn’t read Yale, Yale, MIT, he’d still be a professor?”

        Sure he does, because confirmation bias, survivorship bias, Special Snowflake Syndrome, etc. Hell, Wikipedia has a nice list of like 100 or 150 confirmation biases all on one page; law prawfs probably qualify for at least half of them.

  9. Atrios says:

    At least a decent portion of Ph.D students get free tuition/stipends. I certainly wouldn’t recommend that anyone pay for a Ph.D – especially as those who pay are second class citizens in such programs – but even if an academic job does not await such people aren’t $200K in debt.

    • Former Editor says:

      I think it’s actually an interesting parallel to the law school situation. In those programs, the top applicants get a free ride, while the less desirable applicants who are nonetheless admitted accumulate lots of debt, and have no job prospects in the field. In law schools top applicants to lower ranked schools get large scholarships, while the less desirable applicants who are nonetheless admitted accumulate lots of debt, and have marginal to no job prospects in the field.

      • Denverite says:

        It’s only comparable on its face, at least in most arts/humanities/social science fields. There, PhD applicants are generally told that if they get accepted without full funding, they didn’t really get accepted. There is not the same admonition for law schools.

        (I have a good friend — I may even be married to her! — who attended a tip top PhD program in one of those fields. I can only think of one person who attended without full funding over the 5+ years she was there. I know that it was the standard practice for the faculty to tell pre-MA admittees without full funding to go get an MA from another school and then reapply; I know several who did this and were accepted with full funding a year or two later.)

        • Former Editor says:

          That’s quite true. I was given basically that warning by my undergraduate institution (although not by the programs that I was admitted to without a stipend). Also, the number of students is much, much smaller.

  10. I am the great Santini says:

    So if one were to divide 37,000 students entering law by 200 law skules would equal to 185 new paying customers, eer, I mean law students per law skule$ *

    * Oops — I meant to type the question mark not dollar sign.

  11. NewishLawyer says:

    I am deeply curious about what is going to happen to people in my cohort. That is people who graduated between 2008-2011. I would argue that these were the worst years because we went in on “good” knowledge but had the economy collapse beneath our feet. Maybe you can also include the classes of 2012-2013.

    I know a fair number of people working at long-term bar passage jobs but a good deal are working for their parents or other relatives. I also know people like me who have gone from long-term freelancing gig to long-term freelancing gig and have had a few interviews here and there. There 15 or so people working in law firms of varying size from 2011 and got the jobs without relatives being employed there (they might have had other connections though) and this is 2011 grads only. A few hang your own shingle to varying degrees of success, and lots of people doing “legal adjacent” or paralegal stuff (many of the paralegals never passed the bar), some made an okay transition into business. And then some odds and ends. A friend got a policy job that he really likes.

    I imagine some of us will pull through and be okay. Others not so much but this is a way too easy prediction to make.

    My family history/genetics seem to make me a lawyer and nothing but. My grandfather was a lawyer, my dad is a lawyer, and my brother is a lawyer. Attempts at doing non-lawyer work have largely not led anywhere.

    • Lawthing says:

      As a member of that cohort, I think we’re all going to be exactly as ok as we would have been without law school, except for the debt and its effects. Which is to say: The vast majority of us aren’t going to be anything close to OK, but some people will be more than OK.

      People who went in rich, connected, and directionless will find successful, well-paying careers, exactly as they would have without law school, but they’ll be temporarily cash poor as they pay down their loans.

      People who went in middle-class-or-below, ambitious but prospectless will be underemployed and underpaid, exactly as they would have been without law school, but with ruined credit, garnished wages, seized tax refunds, no savings, no future, unable to own a home or start a family, each day bracketed by fear and shame. Or maybe that’s just me.

      • Jake says:

        This idea that you have to have a two-story home with picket fences to have a family – just let it go.

        • Lawthing says:

          Nice assumption, asshole.

          • It's Not Just You, Lawthing says:

            It’s not just you, Mr. or Mrs. Lawthing. Not even close. It’s me too. I think that what you point out is one of the most under-appreciated and under-reported aspects of this whole scam. It doesn’t just take your money. It leaves people with negative net worths so severe, that they are literally among the poorest people in the nation, and are simultaneously without credit – that thing that has filled the gap for decades in which real wages haven’t risen, but have only matched inflation.

            For the rest of your working life, it’s eat what you kill and only what you kill. Without the financial buffer of available credit that 99.99% of the country relies upon – to start small businesses, for housing, for cars, and sometimes for food – the odds of digging yourself out of this tremendous hole of poverty, are very, very, very low.

            The higher education scam didn’t just take our money, it has effectively sterilized my generation, kept my generation from being homeowners,condemned us to work and work and work to pay creditors who participated in the price-fixing and inflation that caused us to have to buy on credit in the first place for an education, which is really, as my grandma says, “now just a $100,000. work permit.”

            Nations have burned to the ground over less.

  12. JDEsq says:

    I wonder if this year represents essentially the bottom of the law applicant pool, or whether further declines should be expected?

  13. Balrog says:

    This is being celebrated in some quarters as the epitome of a “great time to go to law school,”

    Because only one thing counts in this life! Get them to sign on the loan application line which is dotted! You hear me, you fucking faggots?

    A-B-C. A-always, B-be, C-closing. Always be closing! Always be closing!! A-I-D-A. Attention, interest, decision, action. Attention — do I have your attention? Interest — are you interested? I know you are because it’s fuck or walk. You close or you hit the bricks! Decision — have you made your decision for Christ?!! And action. A-I-D-A; get out there!! You got the prospects e-mailin’ in; you think they’re just bored? Guy doesn’t e-mail Acme Law School unless he wants to buy. Sitting out there waiting to give you their money! Are you gonna take it? Are you man enough to take it?

    You can’t take this — how can you take the abuse you get talking to a prospective applicant?! You don’t like it — leave. I can go out there tonight with the materials you got, and sign up ten students! Tonight! In two hours! Can you? Can you? Go and do likewise! A-I-D-A!! Get mad! You sons of bitches! Get mad!! You know what it takes to sell law school?
    (He pulls something out of his briefcase)
    Blake: It takes brass balls to sell law school.
    Go and do likewise, gents. The money’s out there, you pick it up, it’s yours. You don’t–I have no sympathy for you. You call potential applicants and close, close, it’s yours. If not you’re going to be shining my shoes. Bunch of losers sitting around in a bar. (in a mocking weak voice) “Oh yeah, I used to be a law school admissions official, it’s a tough racket.”

  14. Andrew says:

    As a formerly overly optimistic law school student (though still far more pessimistic than most of my fellow students) and current PhD student, my observation has been that PhD students are far, far more cognizant of the problems in finding a tenure-track position. PhD advisors (at least competent ones) are much more proactive about helping in individual job searches as well, and have a far better pulse on the job market of their graduates than law administrators or faculty, so you tend to get feedback in real time as you go through the PhD process.

    • Guggenheim Swirly says:

      PhD advisors (at least competent ones)

      Unfortunately, it can sometimes be hard to tell the competent ones from the bad ones until it’s too late.

      Uuuummmmmm, no, I’m not speaking from personal experience, why do you ask?

  15. Warren Terra says:

    Hey, Campos: it’s a bit off-topic, but did you see a version of this story, starring an old target of your opprobrium?


    NYU President Gave Son Duplex Dorm During Campus Housing Shortage

    In case you forgot for a second that being the spawn of someone rich and powerful affords you countless ways to circumvent your problems, here’s another: NYU president John Sexton, center, turned two single dorms into a duplex during a housing shortage for his son, the New York Post reports.

    In 2002, the then-33-year-old Jed Sexton moved with his wife into a duplex at 240 Mercer St. in New York’s Greenwich Village. Per the Post, Sexton had two single-unit apartments combined into a larger space for his son, who was not attending or teaching at the school. The rooms were initially earmarked for law faculty, the department where Sexton was dean for a decade.

  16. maxx785 says:

    “The real scam, in other words, is the contemporary structure of our society.”

    I’m one of your biggest fans and admire what you’ve done more than I can say, but here I think you overstate the case, at least as far as law schools go.

    I attended law school before some of the posters here were even born, at a strong in its local market law school. (And back then most law schools graduates went into the local/state market their school was located in.)

    Even then, a non-trivial percentage of my class never practiced law (they were largely in the bottom 25% and found other options) and at most 30% went on to make successful long term careers in law.

    But back then law school was not a scam – it might have been a wasted 3 years, but student loans, to the extent they existed, were dischargeable in bankruptcy, which meant that no one’s life was wrecked the way hundreds of thousands of peoples’ lives have been wrecked since student loans became NON-DISCHARGEABLE.

    That is the key change. The hyper-glut of lawyers is part of the current problem, as is grotesquely high tuition (which would plummet if student loans were once again dischargeable).

    But it’s the ball and chain of NON-DISCHARGEABLE debt that turned law school into a life-destroying scam.

    There is no need imho for a radical change in the contemporary structure of American society, at least as far as law school is concerned.

    Just make student loans dischargeable in bankruptcy AGAIN and the law schools will revert from being a scam back to just a plain old 3 year gruesome nightmare of bullying, hide-the-ball and serial killer manque (aka ‘gunner’) behavior by some of your classmates which does not actually wreck anyone’s life.

    • Municipal D1 says:

      That’s a great post. What a trip it would be, however, if (when?) law school debt could be discharged. The line would be out the courthouse and around the block.

      It would also be an absolute bloodbath for the schools. 50% would close– just the T14 and flagship state schools would remain.

    • williamockham says:

      Not so. I went to a T14 state law school probably a decade before you were in law school. Even as an out of state student the tuition was so low that I can’t even remember what it was. With a working wife we left school with $7,000 in our bank account. And as to allowing student loans to be discharged in bankruptcy, this doesn’t stop the the scam, only who pays for it.

      • maxx785 says:

        5:28:

        Perhaps not so for you, but that doesn’t mean no one borrowed to pay for law school back in the day. And not every one went to a state law school even back then.

        There were several people in my class who had students loans totaling around $10,000, or somewhere between $40,000 and $60,000 adjusted for inflation.

        As far as I know, none of them went bankrupt, not because they were all so successful, but because the amount owed was so small that they could pay it off fairly easily. Plus if they’d tried to file, their Chapter 7 petition might well have been denied based on their income etc. Plus they might well have lost the law license.

        If the most anyone graduating from law school this year (or in the last 10 years) was $60,000, probably almost no one would need to file bankruptcy, or if they tried, their petition would either be denied or converted to a Chapter 13.

        But the law school scammers, as soon as student loans became non-dischargeable, starting raising tuition through the roof – win-win for them and the lender, and catastrophe for a huge percentage of the borrowers. (If law schools simply raised their tuition to keep pace with inflation, then using 1980 as a base, no law school would charge more than $20,000 per annum.)

        If student loans had remained dischargeable in bankruptcy, then law schools wouldn’t have been able to raise their tuition to even 50% of what they typically charge now, because no lender (even the US Government) would have taken the risk of bankruptcy.

        But making student loans non-dischargeable gave law schools the opportunity to make out literally like bandits, and so they did, regardless of the evil (and foreseeable) consequences for their students.

        6:23 pm – Thanks. I too would love to see the lines form.

  17. Philip Arlington says:

    The United States has an increasingly credentialed younger generation, not an increasingly educated younger generation. The distinction goes to the heart of the problem, and while even people such as yourself overlook it there is no chance of it being fixed.

  18. mike in dc says:

    The law school scam is, to me, a more acute manifestation of an emergent “higher education scam” which repeatedly tells people, young and middle-aged, that going to college(or going back to college) is the key or gateway to economic advancement/opportunity. Thanks to the 08-09 global crash, we discover that the unemployment rate among recent college grads is astronomical, and the median salary is way down compared to 10-20 years previous. The loan debt, on the other hand, is up substantially. What was once simply a pessimistic projection, that the children of Xers and Boomers would be less prosperous than their parents, is in the process of becoming a reality. I suppose the establishment freakout won’t happen until enough grads have to move back in with their parents.

    • MAJeff says:

      As I tell my students: the game is rigged, and it’s rigged against you. The piece of paper can turn the odds a BIT in your favor, but get that piece of paper the cheapest way you can….because getting you in debt is one of the ways the game is rigged against you. (Or, failing that, marry money.)

    • Unemployed Northeastern says:

      ” Thanks to the 08-09 global crash, we discover that the unemployment rate among recent college grads is astronomical”

      And it’s astronomically high across the world. There aren’t enough jobs for college grads, period. Not here. Not in Latin America. Not in western or southern Europe. Not in India. Not in China. Not in the Middle East. Nowhere.

  19. Just Default says:

    As a millennial: why shouldn’t I default? Transparency may be greater now than what is was for me, but how does a prospective fix benefit those already mired in debt? That existing debt cannot fairly be described as “voluntary.” We didn’t want it, but if we wanted our ‘work permits,’ we had to take it. Tuition got raised 25%+ after my I accepted and before I graduated. The interest rate subsidy for graduate Stafford loans got removed after my ass was in a seat, and after no other ABA school would accept the number of transfer credits I had to escape the financial rape. Coercive. Manipulative. Unfair.

    Now we debtors have our silence bought off so cheaply with IBR or PAYE. This is the whole “carrot” and “stick”: If you don’t default, we won’t trash your credit and add arbitrary punitive “principal” to the loan. Scary! What credit do I have in light of the balance I carry – a balance which isn’t even close to the horrendous balances most of my peers carry? I came from way less than nothing, and the only debt I’ve ever taken was federal student loans. How will the feds garnish nothing? What do I need credit for…for the house I’ll never buy? For the car I can’t afford? As an insurance policy for the children I will never get to have? What future?

    Negatively amortized loans at 500+ basis points above “risk free” rate, with no bankruptcy protection, so the hole keeps growing under us…

    I see IBR as a bailout of schools, AND ONLY SCHOOLS. If IBR doesn’t result in a write-off on my principal after a couple of decades (inclusive of the tax bill), then the “benefit” I got from it, I paid for. That’s no “gift,” and certainly no “relief.” If IBR ultimately results, for me, in a paying less than the principal, then in fact the creditor took a haircut – the technical definition of default. But, that default wouldn’t have to count against the institution that demanded and sucked my credit. It wouldn’t cause the institution to no longer be eligible to draw on federal credit to create more victims.

    Prospective fixes do nothing for me. For me, and so many like me, even a spotlight on the issue politically will fail. The federal government will not, and cannot afford to bail us out. Okay. The least they can do is stop the over-production of degrees that help no one. The feds won’t do that either, and you can bet your sweet ass the schools won’t. So, a reduction of supply and a public spectacle has to be forced upon them.

    All students, and families, have to do is refuse to have their silence, and their suffering, bought with IBR. Do not cooperate in another bailout. Default. We’ll see then how willing the USA is to extend credit to these fine institutions that bear no risk.

  20. Jake says:

    Paul, I hope this isn’t your last post on the topic but if it is, thank you.

  21. Whiskers says:

    The last paragraph is oh so correct. In my mind, the law school scam has ended in the sense that anyone who doesn’t live under a rock and has access to a google machine is aware that law school is expensive, loans need to pay back, the chance to find good jobs is not that great, and most of the statistics are of the damned lies variety. That people might still tell themselves, well, sure, I”l be the one to finish first in my class at crap u, razzle dazzle everyone in my interviews and get a top job, save up and live leanly my first few years, pay off all my loans and then throw off my golden handcuffs and got as an in-house lawyer at the center for world peaces helping the homeless and environment at a modest low six figure salary, well, there’s nothing that can be done about that.

    But the bigger issue has become changes to the profession, which stem from changes in society. People ain’t got no money. There is no middle class with money for legal expenses. You can make a handsome living giving the world’s largest financial institutions and corporations legal advice. But working at a smaller firm for smaller clients? Harder and harder to find. And charging fees to “regular people” for a real estate transaction, some estate planning or DWI defense- good luck. It can maybe be done if you are willing to be a low-priced mill doing lousy work. Probably not what you wanted to be doing.

    For a reasonably intelligent, well educated, non-finance, non-stem person, it isn’t easy to figure out how to contribute to the economy and add value.

    My advice- study accounting. Its less boring than you think.

    • Unemployed Northeastern says:

      May I suggest an addendum? study accounting and pray you never have to look for a job after age 50, because age discrimination will murder you. There’s not exactly a shortage of accountants out there.

      P.S. Plenty of STEM folk are underemployed, at least in terms of their profession. I know several bio folk up here in Boston, the world’s epicenter of the biotech industry, on their second postdoc making $40k/year, if that, because the competition is so stiff relative to the number of openings.

      • Linnaeus says:

        P.S. Plenty of STEM folk are underemployed, at least in terms of their profession. I know several bio folk up here in Boston, the world’s epicenter of the biotech industry, on their second postdoc making $40k/year, if that, because the competition is so stiff relative to the number of openings.

        This is why I’ve said that when people talk about STEM jobs, they really mean TEM jobs and the S part is oversold. This is only an anecdote, but I remember back in the mid-1990s I had a BS and a good portion of the people I was competing against for entry-level laboratory work (paying around 20K or even less) had Ph.D.s.

        • Unemployed Northeastern says:

          The T is oversold, too. Everyone ascribes to the ubermensch tech nerd who gets competing offers from Google, Apple, and Microsoft, but that’s really just the equivalent of the double Yale law nerd who wonders whether to work for Justice, Wachtell, or a hedge fund. But a lot of tech work is outsourceable, credential inflation is rampant, about half of H1B visas go to so-called tech process outsourcers, industry-level salaries barely keep up with inflation, 1099 status is everywhere, IT’s never coming back, etc etc.

      • Whiskers says:

        That’s true, but I think age discrimination is pretty rampant anywhere and everywhere.

        • Anonymous says:

          Yes, which is a good reason to be a solo-lawyer. If you can make it as a solo, nobody can fire you.

          • Anonymous says:

            Let me add to my post above. Obviously education is no longer a key to success. Everybody is being decimated by the loss of the Middle Class. If you can’t get on with Goldman Sachs, make a fortune and retire young, Or if you can’t get on with the Feds so that you can be a working drone for your career, what are your alternatives? I still say find a cheap, state supported law school . . they have them in Florida, get out with as little debt as possible, work for somebody else for a year or two to learn the ropes, and start your own practice. There will always be personal injury cases, always people with money looking for divorce attorneys, always older people looking for estate attorneys. Working for yourself may be the only way to go the way things are right now, and law gives you the license to work for yourself and even possibly make a lot of money doing so.

            • Anonymous says:

              And to those who say its not doable . . I say Bull. People still have money to burn, even in the small town where I practice. They will help you pay the bills. The good contingency fee cases will help sweeten the pot at the end of the year.

              • Whiskers says:

                People with money to burn don’t like to part with it.

                Being a solo means you have unlimited vacation days, no salary and no benefits. So it has its pros and cons.

          • edwoof says:

            And no one gives you a paycheck either.

        • Anonymous says:

          So no, it is not mandatory to go to a top tier school, maybe even detrimental. One, many end up going there full pay and then have large amounts of debt. That means they have no choice but to go into Big Law. Not only is big law by reputation a soul deadening job, but most end up being bounced out anyway, with very limited and specialized experience. Then what? Feds? Maybe if you are lucky. In-House? Good friend of mine started with big law . . then inhouse . . then another inhouse . . then another inhouse as his position was eliminated . . and now he is . . . . SOLO.

  22. Tom Tom says:

    Websites like these still need to discuss this information regularly because if they don’t, some people will make the assumption that the problems with law schools and lack of jobs no longer exists.

    37,000 to 38,000 new JD students in the fall of 2014 is still about 7,000 to 8,000 too many.

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