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The road toward open enrollment at American law schools

[ 80 ] December 18, 2014 |


It’s been almost exactly four years since the publication of David Segal’s original NY Times piece on the employment crisis overtaking recent law school graduates. Inside legal academia, Segal’s article was met largely with scorn, and in retrospect it’s easy to see why.

At the time, transparency regarding law graduate employment outcomes essentially didn’t exist, ABA law schools had just admitted their biggest first year class ever, tuition was at an all time high and still rising much faster than inflation (which demonstrated that law school was a fine investment because The Market), and any so-called employment “crisis” among law grads was obviously a temporary function of the recession, and was seriously exaggerated by bitter scamblog losers who went to bad law schools, and should have known better all along because Rational Maximizing of Individual Utility. Also, too, Caveat Emptor.

Today, well . . .

Elizabeth Olson and David Segal in today’s NYT:

The bottom of the law school market just keeps on dropping.

Enrollment numbers of first-year law students have sunk to levels not seen since 1973, when there were 53 fewer law schools in the United States, according to the figures just released by the American Bar Association. The 37,924 full- and part-time students who started classes in 2014 represent a 30 percent decline from just four years ago, when enrollment peaked at 52,488.

The recession was in full swing then, and many college graduates looked at law school, as they have many times in the past, as a sure ticket to a good job. Now, with the economy slowly rebounding, a growing number of college graduates are examining the costs of attending law school and the available jobs and deciding that it is not worth the money.

“People are coming to terms with the fact that this decline is the product of long-term structural changes that are just not going away,” said Paul F. Campos, a professor at the University of Colorado’s law school. “It’s kind of a watershed moment.”

Even after all this time, there’s a part of me that’s genuinely surprised that so many law schools are at present managing to lose so much money. I mean consider this “business” model: The government will loan anyone to whom you choose to sell your product the full price of that product, subject to essentially no actuarial controls. And here’s the kicker: you can charge whatever you want, no questions asked! You get the proceeds of the loans, the buyers and eventually the taxpayers take all the risk, and you can do whatever you want with the money.

Losing money in this situation should be pretty hard to do, but if history has taught us anything, it’s that there is no amount of money that can’t be blown on yachts with three helipads, bottle service, and university administration.

Anyway, even back in 2010 the warning signs should have been plentiful, as that largest first-year class ever, the size of which was necessary to pay for the helipads etc., was gathered in by cutting admission standards quite a bit from where they were a few years earlier. That process has since accelerated, with the result that, this fall, it appears that 80% of law school applicants were admitted to at least one ABA school to which they applied.

Although the total number of applicants who were admitted in 2014 isn’t yet available, the 80% figure can be deduced by observing that 54,527 applicants resulted in 37,924 matriculants. [Updated: The figures are now available from LSAC. They indicate that 43,500 applicants were admitted, meaning that 79.8% of applicants were offered admission to at least one law school in the 2013-13 cycle] In 2013 86.8% of admitted applicants ended up matriculating somewhere: this latter percentage tends to be very stable. If we assume the same percentage of admitted applicants matriculated in 2014, that would mean the overall admission rate for ABA law school applicants will have looked like this over the past decade:

2004: 55.6%
2005: 58.6%
2006: 63.1%
2007: 66.1%
2008: 66.5%
2009: 67.4%
2010: 68.7%
2011: 71.1%
2012: 74.5%
2013: 76.8%
2014: 78.1%

Here’s how this looks at the individual school level. I randomly looked up the percentage of admitted applicants at 13 schools: the holy trinity of Harvard, Yale, and Stanford, and then ten schools ranging from the sub-elite to the sub-basement. The first percentage represents applicants admitted in 2004. The second is the same figure for 2014:

American: 24.6% 49.7%
Boston College: 16.6% 43.9%
Brooklyn: 23% 53.2%
UC-Hastings: 19.5% 49.2%
UCLA: 13.6% 28.1%
Florida Coastal: 35.6% 77.7%
Fordham: 19.3% 35.5%
Hofstra: 26.3% 61.2%
Illinois: 23.1% 41.9%
John Marshall: 35.7% 72.9%

Harvard: 11.3% 15.4%
Stanford: 7.7% 9.1%
Yale: 6.5% 8.9%

So even the high rent district has felt a slight sting, though it’s nothing compared to what’s going on in the outer suburbs.

As to when and where this will all end, applications are down another ten percent so far this year.


Comments (80)

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  1. I would not have guessed that Fordham would have remained as competitive as it seems to be, and I wonder why it is. I suppose it is still sort of a brand name, which really can’t be said for American or BC, which are, I suspect, mostly about location.

    • Paul Campos says:

      American and Fordham have suffered similar declines in demand, as the percentage of applicants each school admits has roughly doubled. They’re in some ways similar schools, in that they’re each the third-best law school in a sexy city where lots of people want to live and work, and each has just built a wildly expensive new building. Each also charges $50,000 per year sticker and offers very little in the way of discounts off that.

      Fordham does place a non-trivial percentage of its grads in good jobs though, which can’t be said about American.

      • Srsly Dad Y says:

        20 years ago there was a healthy Fordham network among D.A/clerk/judge types. I assume it still exists at least by reputation. I could be wrong, but I got the impression that “City Law School” in the 1998 movie Rounders was supposed to be Fordham.

        EDIT: And hey, Mr. Wiki tells me the movie was written by two Fordham grads.

      • Unemployed_Northeastern says:

        Dear Northeastern is similar to them: third-best school in Boston (since only a small fraction of Harvard students stick around), recently built renovated a moderately expensive building, sends law school tuition to help fund the university’s wildly expensive and debt-fueled empire building,* and the law school charges just shy of $50k in tuition, IIR. Minimal discounts, too (the median grant is only about $1500/year higher than when I was a matriculating student some years ago). And like American and Fordham, Northeastern’s entering class size has also dropped >40% since 2010. In response, the school has completely thrown off its skin-deep and self-serving public interest bent to create the obvious ancillary revenue streams that we call the LLM and the MLS.

        As for “good jobs,” Northeastern now places fewer grads in law firms of >100 attorneys than frigging Suffolk, which is a huge change from when I was a student.

        *This makes Northeastern the university more aligned with a NYU or GW than anything else, really.

    • BoredJD says:

      Fordham’s placement into high-status legal employment (biglaw, AIII clerkships, etc.) is about 5-10% higher than the other expensive, sub-elite private law schools like BU/BC/WUSTL/GW/Emory, making it a better choice for an above average applicant who doesn’t want to retake the LSAT because that would be hard.

      • ScarsdaleVibe says:

        But then again, Fordham has been perennially ranked in the high 20s/low 30s in the bullshit US News rankings. Whereas WUSTL (Which I think is an otherwise excellent university with an overrated law school) is ranked 18!!!!!!! And Emory is 19!!!!!!!! And GW is ranked 20!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

        Right now Fordham is ranked 36!!!! You should go to WUSTL even if you want to practice in NYC because it’s ranked EIGHTEEN PLACES HIGHER!!

        I remember my mother trying to talk me out of going to a law school that shall not be named, because it wasn’t “ranked as high” as another one I got into. Nevermind the fact that it was in the city I wanted to practice in, and that the employment numbers were actually a little better.

        If you want to be simple about it and compare law school prestige alone, as opposed to anything else, such as where you want to practice, employment outcomes, the only comparisons that really make sense are tiers, not the constantly fluctuating gradations based on whatever US News pulls out its ass. There’s the cream of the crop:Harvard Yale and Stanford, then there’s maybe two more tiers within the T14.

        GW and BU and Emory and WUSTL and Fordham are all pretty much peer schools. You should be looking at employment outcomes and where you want to get a job. If you’re fretting about prestige or whatever in terms of a few places in the rankings you’re being an idiot. I’m frankly astounded that so many people I talk to still don’t get this.

    • Lawbastard says:

      I’m a Fordham alum. The education was quite good, in my opinion, but the real reason it hangs on as far as I can tell is that it’s the final option for anyone who is focused on a Manhattan-based law school (behind Columbia and NYU, obviously, and ahead of NY Law, Touro, and whatever toilets are down the rankings).

    • ScarsdaleVibe says:

      Fordham seems to still be respected within the city. Not as much as Columbia or NYU of course, but it’s not really an embarrassing shitstain of a school either. I think it might be a vestige of an earlier time-it seems like its currency has decreased over the past generation. But it’s remained as a sort of “second tier” option for quite a while-not the sexiest JD out there, but no firm would be ashamed to count a Fordham grad among their attorneys, and no one’s embarrassed to hang a Fordham diploma in their office.

      But of course that doesn’t explain it all-my mother and aunt went to UM (Miami, not Michigan), and the Miami alumni network always seemed pretty strong within the city. But the school has never been particularly competitive.

      BC has always gotten a lot of love from the Boston community too. BC really is (or at least was) sort of a brand name there.

      So I don’t know. I would say New York is a destination city, but then again, Boston and Miami are great cities as well. But BC Law is in Chestnut Hill, and Miami is in Coral Gables. Fordham Law is-by Lincoln Center I believe. I’m not surprised people want to go there.

      • Crusty says:

        There is more corporate legal work in New York, so after firms fill up with their t-14 kids, and they need a few more from the school across the street, Fordham is there.

      • Unemployed_Northeastern says:

        BC Law is actually not in Chestnut Hill; it is in a branch campus alongside a few freshman dorms about 2 or 2.5 miles west of the rest of BC and nestled between two high schools. It’s basically in Newtonville or a tad east of it, though further away from Newton Center. Different tax bracket than Chestnut Hill, though like the rest of Newton, it ain’t cheap.

        • ScarsdaleVibe says:

          That’s interesting. My mother was raised in Newton (Newton Centre actually) several decades ago and she said that it used to be much more working class and much less Jewish (not that there’s anything wrong with Jews, just a demographic note).

          But I don’t know how accurate her memory there is.

          • Unemployed_Northeastern says:

            Simply being in close proximity to Boston has made every applicable town breathtakingly expensive. The median house price in Somerville is cresting $500,000 these days, and new 1BR apartments (again, in SOMERVILLE) go for more than $2000/month. It’s even worse in Newton, since 1) many of its villages have always been nice/expensive and 2) it has some of the best public schools in the state. According to Zillow, the median price of homes listed in Newton at the moment is $988,000. Of the six homes closest to BC Law for sale at the moment, five are listed for between $2 million and $3.45 million. The sixth is listed for $488,000, for which you get a 1,141 square foot condo with one bathroom.

            All of the old Victorians around Newton Centre have been rehabbed and go for millions. It’s almost an extension of Chestnut Hill at this point.

    • mutt guy says:

      The Cravath law firm’s web site shows 6 partners and 1 retired partner from Fordham, as well as 15 associates and a few senior, practice area and discovery attorneys. (You can search by school on their web site.)

      That’s an impressive number for a non T14 school, and I think it ties into the idea that ambitious ‘hungry’ kids from non-Ivy backgrounds (but with top grades of course) may do well in the rough and tumble atmosphere of large law firms.

  2. BoredJD says:

    So after his performance in the recent bar examination spat and this article, Nick Allard seems to have emerged as legal academia’s misdirecter-in-chief. I wish him well in his new position.

  3. Stan1 says:

    “Losing money in this situation should be pretty hard to do, but if history has taught us anything, it’s that there is no amount of money that can’t be blown on yachts with three helipads, bottle service, and university administration.”

    I come to LGM for the facts. But I stay for the snark.

  4. ChrisS says:

    So what was the root cause of the run up of law school applicants?
    The go-go 90s making biglaw especially attractive?

    I separated from the military in 2001, got my BS in 2005 and applied to a pile of law schools. Since, apparently, it was epoch of law school applications, I was only accepted at a few schools in the 25-40 range and ultimately decided against racking up $150k of debt for, even at the time, middling job prospects. I bailed on law and, as it happened, it turned out to be a very good thing as I would have graduated in 2008 right in the maelstrom of the recession.

    • Denverite says:

      So what was the root cause of the run up of law school applicants?

      A confluence of three factors.

      There was a biglaw hiring surge in the mid 00s, largely driven by the real estate bubble. That made it look easy to get a $160k job. (In reality, it was only “easy” for T14 students, and “feasible” — in the sense that it was a roll of the dice and not a spin of the roulette wheel — for maybe the top 40 or so schools.)

      The beginning of the Great Recession made post-college employment prospects look bleaker than usual. It also eroded job prospects and satisfaction even for employed recent college grads.

      It took about 18-24 months for the effects of the Great Recession to trickle down to biglaw. That means the you-know-what didn’t hit the fan until 2009 and 2010.

      So in 2008 and 2009, you have a bunch of college juniors and seniors looking at graduating college with little-to-no job prospects, and a legal field with seemingly decent-to-great career outcomes. They applied to law school.

      • Crusty says:

        There was also the proliferation of $160K jobs. There were basically two factors behind that- one, there was an economic boom that was taking top college and law school talent over to investment banks. Law firms had to compete with that, hence, the rise, among some firms to $160K.

        Also, the number of firms that fancied themselves top tier expanded greatly. No longer was it just a handful of firms in New York, but the “big” firm in St. Louis that also had an outpost in Florham Park, NJ, and a one man office in New York where they needed an associate, couldn’t announce they weren’t as good as Sullivan and Cromwell by paying less, so they paid the “going rate” as well.

      • Paul Campos says:

        It should have been a warning sign to law schools that applications to law school were 15% higher in 2003 and 2004 than in 2009 and 2010. 2009-2010 should have been an all-time high for applications, for the reasons you cite. But law schools dropped enrollment standards enough to get their all-time biggest classes anyway in 2009 and 2010, even though applications were significantly lower than they had been a half dozen years earlier.

    • FMguru says:

      The drying up of good non-professional jobs and career tracks for non-STEM college grads. Lots of people with fancy college degrees trying and failing to get traction in the job market, so they figure “well, I could always take out some loans and go to law school”.

      • BoredJD says:

        This has been true for the last 20-30 years, though. It’s a haven for a lot of people who don’t necessarily want to be lawyers in the sense that they perform specific tasks towards the end of helping clients with their legal problems. Instead, they just have this abstract idea that law school is a path for people who want to wear suits to work, make upper middle class salaries, and do something vaguely corporatey (even if the label is “lawyer” rather than “consultant” or “analyst”).

        You could probably set at 10% the number of applicants who could tell you in longer than a paragraph what kind of work they see themselves doing in five years.

        This article described that mindset very well- in 1992. IME applicant psychology really hasn’t changed that much.

        • FMguru says:

          Yeah, but the trend really started accelerating in the 2000s, where even newly-minted grads from “good” colleges found their B.A.s weren’t enough to get them on any kind of career track.

          • NewishLawyer says:

            That would be me. Vassar College grad from 2002. Though I did not apply to law school until 2008 and tried for a theatre career for a while. But still my main jobs after college were teaching English for a year in Japan, a part-time publicity/marketing job for a very small publishing company, and running an election. None of this was exactly leading anywhere. There was also a modicum of freelance proofreading.

          • Unemployed_Northeastern says:

            Yep. I graduated from one of the highest-ranked liberal arts colleges in the country, if not the very tippity-top (i.e. not Williams/Amherst/Swarthmore/Wellesley) about a decade ago. There was virtually no on-campus recruiting, and hundreds upon hundreds of unanswered job applications told me of the exact worth of that degree. Hence law school, which has only made everything much worse.

          • SgtGymBunny says:

            From my experience, this trend also happened at the graduate level as well. I work in a registration office of a damn good Intl Relations/Policy grad school, and around the 2009-2010 era, we were processing a good number of LSAC transcript requests. We were also getting an unusual number of students who were trying to find ways that they could graduate later. The latter group of students were very upfront why: they hadn’t found jobs and wanted to maintain their enrollment status so they could continue deferring their loan payments. I presume that was the similar logic in favor of immediately pursuing a JD after completing one $120K grad degree. No immediate job prospects, so just wait it out by earning more degrees, and hopefully emerge on the other side more qualified than other job applicants because now they have an international relations professional degree AND a law degree (and perhaps an MBA, too…just in case–and, yes, there were a few of those). Somebody’s going to want them for something, right?

            But I have noticed now that I’m not seeing as many LSAC transcript requests as compared to a couple of years ago… So I guess the memo was read.

        • NewishLawyer says:

          Man, I can’t relate to articles like that. Well I can a bit. I did like school a lot and this included undergrad, grad, and law school. If you gave me a genie wish for professions, I could see picking “tenured professor at a decent or elite liberal arts college or univeristy in an urban area or a charming small town, preferably in the Northeast or Northwest”

          But you know what? I actually like being a lawyer. I don’t like the freelancing but I like being the lawyer and I do feel like I am accomplishing something. I also really liked school.

          Yet I always read these essays or hear people with similar backgrounds and it seems like I don’t have the proper attitude. The proper attitude is to think that it is all a smoke and mirror show and that academics do not matter and law does not matter.

          Did I miss a memo somewhere? What am I missing?

          • Crusty says:

            Newish, as I understand it, you do temp work, correct? You will figure out what you’re missing in a few years.

          • Denverite says:

            No, you’re not the only one. The things that make being a lawyer unpleasant — dealing with stressed out and angry people, being reliant on a revenue stream that’s largely out of your control, etc. — are really kind of peripheral to the actual practice of law. The substance of a legal practice is actually pretty interesting, and that’s true whether you’re a deal lawyer or a litigator or a regulatory person.

            • Crusty says:

              The substance of legal practice can be very interesting. And while you are “newish” you might be able to say, hey, so this isn’t a “permanent” job, they don’t give me benefits, I’m not on the partner track, or any track at all, I’m doing work I like, getting experience, learning something, at a certain point, you’ll want a career path. You’ll look around and say hey, I’m well educated, competent, willing to work hard, why can’t I find a job where I contribute and am modestly rewarded with some kind of minimal stability, dignity and respect?

          • ScarsdaleVibe says:

            I agree with you, and I’m also in a similar boat w/r/t to freelancing, except I’m in NY/NJ and not CA.

            I know I can’t do this my whole life, so increasingly it’s seemed like my least bad option is starting my own practice, I know you mentioned a similar thing a while back. I’m in talks with one practitioner to work out an office-sharing agreement-my rent will be doing work for him, and then in the meantime doing what I can to get experience and cases of my own, even signing up to be appointed counsel (for criminal defendants).

            It might end up with me crashing and burning, but at least that’ll be my sign to take another career path. But there’s only so much longer I can sail along. If I can’t get a job, I’ll make my own, and if that’s catastrophic, well, I tried.

    • Francis says:

      Run-up compared to what? Total population? Size of the economy? Wealth / income controlled by top 1%?

      About the time the recession hit the major consumers of legal services in the US finally got a lot smarter about their legal bills. Discovery, for example, used to be a major cash cow for big firms. Now it is outsourced to low-cost specialist law firms who do the bulk of the work electronically. Clients now put their big cases out to bid. Stock work must be done at a stock price. etc. So the total cash value of providing legal services is actually dropping nationwide. So the market for new lawyers shrank rapidly.

      So the run-up prior to the recession is that much more striking because it has been followed by an actual shrinkage in the market for lawyers.

    • NewishLawyer says:

      I think you might have been okay. The real damage was done to people who graduated in 2008-2011. Maybe even now.

      People covered stuff below but I think law school has always been the refuge of arts and humanities majors who eventually figured out that they want a middle-class or above life but are basically unemployable in business, medicine, and STEM.

      At least I know a lot of people with arts and humanities degrees who spent their 20s in various stages of underemployment and not being able to get good decent employment otherwise and eventually decided that law school was the place to go. I am not the only person I know who tried for an artistic life for a good chunk of their 20s but then eventually decided on law school.

      Most of these people went to elite colleges and universities but not at the Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Stanford level where you can major in anything and get a job on Wall Street. If you are an English or Film major from Wesleyan or Smith, you are pretty smart but probably going to end up as a paralegal somewhere. You are also probably too ambitious to want to remain a paralegal for the rest of your working life but potentially not MBA material. So law school is the option.

      Except that this country probably produces too many smart but impractical people (I’m one of them!) and their traditional avenues of decent employment are the ones that seem to be shutting down the fastest: Journalism, Law, Academics, etc.

      *There is probably some snobbery involved in that many of us don’t want to move out of large metropolitan areas. I have a thing about needing to live in areas with large Jewish populations.

      • rewenzo says:

        Presumably it’s not snobbery so much as wanting reasonable access to kosher meat and the ability to carry on Saturday, pray with a congregation, etc.

        • NewishLawyer says:

          I’m reform and don’t keep Kosher and only go to services a few times a year but it is more about not being the only Jewish person around or living in a liberal area that understands gawking questions about Judaism are not cool.

          It is really about having a sense of community. Also I grew up an an inner-ring suburb of NYC and this spoiled me for cultural amenities. I like being near institutions like BAM, Film Forum, Cal Performances, etc.

        • Barry_D says:

          “…the ability to carry on Saturday”

          You mean that states with small percentages of Jewish population ban carrying (guns?) on Saturday? :)

      • Unemployed_Northeastern says:

        This. I like to say that some of the most dangerous books in America are things like “33 Hidden Ivies” or “Overlooked College Gems” and similar. Perhaps not since before World War I have we had such a marked delineation between the job outcomes of the HYP&S, MIT/Caltech, Williams/Amherst/Wellesley brackets and everyone else, even schools that are purportedly their peers. There is a veritable ocean between the realistic outcomes of a Yale grad and a Wesleyan grad these days, or a Penn grad and a Haverford grad, or whatever.

        • NewishLawyer says:

          I would say that it might depends on the major. I know people who majored in the most practically minded things they could find at Vassar. These people managed to get into medical school or working as research scientists for Pharma. Some economics majors did get banking and other business type jobs but they were also more mainstream and not semi-arty potentially.

          I also have friends who are in post-doc hell or who eventually got jobs in advertising and marketing but after grad school M.F.A.s or grad school degrees in journalism. Another friend got his real estate license after grad school for urban planning. Some people are working as teachers and librarians. Others went to law school early or went when we did and got lucky.

          • Unemployed_Northeastern says:

            At least in my observations, the only major that really made a difference was Economics, and only then if you substantially beat the grading curve, since our “already inferior to Amherst or Harvard because we are ranked a few places beneath them” school also saddles its students with an average GPA that was about 0.25 to 0.4 below schools like Amherst or Williams. The real variable, at least from my observations, was your socioeconomic status. If you came from Deerfield and your parents were venture capitalists or corporate titans or something, of course you’re going to finagle a good job somewhere. If you were middle class and didn’t have a Rolodex of people who subscribe to the Robb Report, you were going to end up working for Teach For America, your local hardware store, or go to grad/professional school.

      • Barry_D says:

        “I think you might have been okay. The real damage was done to people who graduated in 2008-2011. Maybe even now.”

        From what I’ve heard on this and other blogs, the layoffs were massive;
        competent people who had been worth employing no longer were, since the business just wasn’t there, and showed (and is showing) no sign of recovery.

        • NewishLawyer says:

          I think it depends on what you do. I am not a big law guy. I always wanted to be a plaintiff’s lawyer and people and this is not exactly a field that gets destroyed completely through fiscal crisis and recession. It isn’t client recessions prevent injuries from happening. Though plaintiff’s firms are doing more with less and are now able to get grads from schools that would have normally refused plaintiff’s work in previous times.

          • I used to think that PI was recession proof, but I was wrong. Fewer construction starts means fewer workplace accidents, fewer trucks on the road, slowed manufacture generally… when the economy tanks there is less activity generally, and that means fewer accidents. Add to that the fact that when you do plaintiff’s work you are the bank– your client isn’t going to be able to pay filing fees, or expert costs, or anything much really.

            It isn’t much better on the defense side. Insurance companies pay slow, and merge, or go into receivership. In my time practicing I have seen whole categories of tort disappear by acts of legislation.

            I like law, and I like practicing it, but it is the furthest thing from an easy way to make a living.

      • ScarsdaleVibe says:

        STEM is definitely out for me (and oversold, anyway). I wouldn’t mind breaking into a decent business career track, but I feel like I missed the boat on that one, and I don’t even know how I’d sell myself-literally everything on my resume from the past 5 years is law related.

        If I’m still shoveling shit in a couple years I might try for a post-bacc to fulfill pre-med requirements, but that’s just even more debt.

        Or just become an entrepreneur and found a company and sell it for millions of dollars.

        Alternatively I could just hang myself.

  5. rewenzo says:

    Anyone know why NYU’s acceptance rate of 28% is so much higher than those of the other top 14 schools?

  6. Dr. Ronnie James, DO says:

    Is there any chance a decent percentage of people considering law school might be persuadable to become doctors instead? Because we need more doctors, and the whole “easy money tuition” thing applies just as much. I know many med students and lawyers, and they almost all hit a similar “oh shit I need to get a real job” wall in their early 20s. Medicine has turned out to be surprisingly less grueling than I thought, and the personal satisfaction I know many lawyers lack in their jobs is there almost daily for me, even in my third year of schooling (I delivered a baby yesterday!). Plus very few med school grads can’t find work or can’t pay off their loans on time. Just saying…

    • NewishLawyer says:

      I wouldn’t have made it past organic chemistry. See the comments above, the law students are people who majored in things like English Literature or Art History.

      • Denverite says:

        The guy who graduated first in my law school class had a physics background. Another guy in the top five or so was a comp sci person. I think math and physics majors pretty regularly score the highest on the LSAT.

        All of this is to say that not all law students are English or History majors.

        • NewishLawyer says:

          True. I know a guy who has an M.D., J.D., M.B.A., and a Masters in Biology. He kills it as a plaintiff’s lawyer and usually handles all the science stuff on big pharma trials.

          • Unemployed_Northeastern says:

            That has to be at least a dozen years of post-BA/BS study, even if he did a joint JD/MBA to scrub a year and didn’t do any residencies or fellowships after the MD. In addition to the opportunity cost, all that education could legitimately cost $500,000 or more. Seems very risky, unless he got it all in Finland or Germany or some other country where Americans can go to university for free.

    • Denverite says:

      The stereotypical “arts or humanities major” prospective law student generally doesn’t have anywhere near the requisite math and science classes to enroll in medical school. In most of those cases, the student is pretty bad at math, so it would be difficult for them to get good enough grades in those classes to be admitted. Which is another issue — even before the current open enrollment regime, law school has always been exponentially easier to get into than medical school.

      (The funny thing is that the best lawyers often are the ones with a math or science background, even if they don’t do IP or the like.)

    • Crusty says:

      1) Its the science and math pre-requisites, and

      2) even though there may be a shortage of doctors, GPA selectivity is still a major barrier. I might be kind of off on the numbers, but people I remember going to medical school had very high GPA’s. Law school, much lower, even for t-14 schools (but not hys).

    • BoredJD says:

      In my case (BIGSTATE), it wasn’t that I was “bad at math” and thus couldn’t pass intro classes, it’s that those classes required a significant amount of effort to excel in compared to my humanities and social sciences classes. You couldn’t just show up to MATH 101 or CHEM 101 and ace the exam by writing some bullshit like you could ENGL 101 or HIST 101 (I also had a broad base of knowledge to draw on for those classes to make my bullshit more palatable). You just gravitate towards what’s easy, and engineering or hard sciences students just seemed to have actual demands on their time. I was friends with a guy who was training to be an actuary- his whole college experience was just studying for one big credentialing test after another (like studying for the LSAT for four years).

      Maybe this isn’t true at the elite LAC’s or Ivy schools. But law school always seemed like a continuation of this theme just with smarter people and way more stress.

      • Crusty says:

        Similar in my case (large, 2d tier Ivy). The material in calculus isn’t particularly difficult, but all those clases- calc, bio, chem, physics, orgo, were graded on hard curves. You were mathematically sorted out amongst other people that wanted to go to med school, people that would go on to graduate programs in the sciences, other nerds, etc. And a B+ might seem respectable enough, but not to go to medical school in the United States.

        I believe in humanities education, but there’s little denying that 1) its easier to bullshit your way through, and 2) the classes weren’t graded on the same types of mathematical curves.

    • Joe Bob the III says:

      You could encourage them to do that but the medical education system couldn’t, or wouldn’t, necessarily absorb them. Every time the ‘lack of primary care doctors’ crisis flare up there is talk of expanding med school enrollment but it never happens. The thought is that if there are more docs and all the top-dollar specialist positions are filled more will settle for the $150K GP or Internist gigs.

      I’ve heard varying explanations for why the pool of MDs hasn’t grown: 1) Cartel-like behavior on behalf of the medical professional associations. 2) Educational infrastructure: A medical school is a very different, much more capital intensive, thing than a law school. It takes a lot more time and money to orchestrate an increase in med school enrollment.

    • ScarsdaleVibe says:

      I think I can hack the science requirements, and I’ve always enjoyed the stuff anyway, but I’d have to do a post-bacc. I wish I had given med school more serious thought.

  7. Crusty says:

    And now, I’d like to talk about sales for a minute. Sales as a career. Sales is not something that is generally taught at college, even to business majors. And because of that, lots of people don’t consider careers in sales. They also don’t consider careers in sales because 1) there’s the stigma of a used car salesman, 2) often, its a commission only job and therefore unattractive to young people who need some sort of guaranteed income.

    But the fact is, I know lots of people, some very well-educated, some not, who work in sales of some type. Not retail sales- what I’ll call business sales. Real estate brokers, stock brokers (a dying breed, yes), salespersons for outsourced hr services, IT services, all kinds of stuff. The type of people who take business meetings, take you out to dinner, send you gifts at the holidays and strike a deal with you. Think dunder-miflin, but not exactly. Anyway, many of these people have perfectly satisfying careers and good incomes. Sure, they’re not saving the world the way lawyers get to, but it can be satisfying work.

    Anyway, here’s the thing- put aside for a moment issues like rich parents, government loans, etc. If a kid is graduating from college, as a political science major from a respectable school, and he goes to his parents, I think I want to go to law school, his parents will say yes, that sounds like a good idea, and they will support him in what way they can, whether that’s picking up the tab altogether, offering to help with the loans after the fact, or just giving him money to buy a suit for interviews. They’ll do it and they’ll mention to the neighbors that their son is in law school.

    If the same kid goes to his parents and says, I want to pursue a career as a commercial real estate broker, there is a firm willing to hire me on an all commission basis, they’ll give me business cards and a phone line, I’d like to take a crack at this, but I know it will take a long time to build contacts, get my name out there and build a sufficient client base such that this can actually provide a reliable living, would you support me in this endeavor, i.e., let’s say you would give me $90k to pay for law school over three years, instead, support me for three years while I build a client base, build contacts and try to learn the business, I think it will set me up for a good career, most parents would say no, that doesn’t sound like a good plan, doesn’t sound responsible, sounds like its just flushing money down the toilet, education is good.

    But they’d be wrong.

    • ScarsdaleVibe says:

      I don’t know what kinds of people you hang around, but there are many people I went to high school with who came from fairly well-off families of doctors and lawyers and CPAs and whatnot who went into commercial real estate after college (mid to late aughts). By all accounts, this was not frowned upon at all-it was seen by their parents as a respectable line of work. My parents and most people’s parents in the peer group I was raised in did not at all frown upon honest white collar work (except maybe “ambulance chasing” plaintiff’s lawyers). Maybe it’s a regional thing, maybe it’s a different generation of parents. Post Great Recession, I have a hard time seeing any of my friends’ parents looking down on a good career track like that.

      I do have one friend who disappointed his parents by foregoing med school (he got into a US one) to start his own business (rentals for parties and events, like tents). He does well enough.

      My parents strongly pushed me into law school, but the only reason they reacted strongly against my not going was because I wasn’t sure what else I was going to do-I only knew that I wasn’t dead set on being a lawyer. I suspect reasonable and good parents will react differently to “I don’t want to go to law school, but I don’t know what else I’m going to do, guess I’ll bum around and be underemployed for most of my 20s while I figure it out” than “I’m not going to law school because I found this other great opportunity for a solid middle class career. And law school will be there later if I change my mind and I’ll have this experience to draw on.” When you have high expectation parents, you need to meet those expectations with a plausible and well-thought out counter if they don’t want the parental backlash. That assumes they are also good parents and reasonable people. If they’re bad parents, this’ll fall on deaf ears and they’ll keep pushing. But those are the types of parents you end up not listening to as much.

      • Crusty says:

        The thing is, those aren’t necessarily solid opportunities for middle class careers. If something is 100% commission based, there’s a tremendous amount of risk involved. But the risk can be mitigated by money and other forms of support, i.e., the cushion to build it to the point where that’s less risky. And I don’t know a whole lot of parents who think its a good idea for their 22 year old child to take a 100% commission job, let alone any who would financially back such a move.

        Its more than that though. There’s an attitude that sales (not real estate, but the sales aspect) is not what the person went to college for. You studied Shakespeare, and now you want to sell real estate? What do you know about real estate.

        • NewishLawyer says:

          I know a few people from high school who do real estate and they are college educated people. Interestingly a lot of actor and artist types (at least the more socially with it crowd) like to get real estate agent licenses because it can provide a better income than waiting tables or bartending. The hours are also theoretically flexible. You can duct into an audition during the day.

          • Unemployed_Northeastern says:

            Real estate is like working for Edward Jones or Ameriprise or something: unless you already have the full Rolodex or are a 1 in 1,000 natural salesperson and networker, you are going to wash out quickly. And if you are a 1 in 1,000 natural salesperson and networker, you should be able to get someone to hire you with your law degree. Of course, I think the Venn Diagram overlap between natural salespeople and law school students is very small indeed.

      • NewishLawyer says:

        I don’t think Crusty is talking about the work per se but the idea of potentially supporting your kid by paying for rent, food, health insurance, and some spending money while he or she is trying to learn a job that operates 100 percent on commission. Crusty is right that it can take a while before someone can support themselves on a job that is one hundred percent commission especially sales jobs.

        We have a psychological issue that says if you are working you should support yourself and earn income. We seem to think it is okay if your are being supported financially while in school.

        • Crusty says:


          Just by way of anecdote, I have a client, not bright, but as honest as the day is long, nice, kind, etc. Wonderful guy, but by no means a financial genius or anything. He is a stockbroker/financial advisor. His parents supported him for a couple of years when he had no clients, right out of school. Today, he makes an annual income that most biglaw partners would be wiling to trade up for. And he’s got plenty of time for community service type activities, family involvement, charity work, etc. And he’s actually “helping people.” (I realize that he is quite the outlier in his industry).

  8. Joe Bob the III says:

    Actually, in the situation that law schools currently find themselves in it is not that hard to lose money. If your line of business is declining fast enough, it can be difficult to lay off staff and cut expenses as quickly as you need to.

  9. Curiously Questioning says:

    Given the massive decline in admission standards, what percent of students entering law school today would not have been able to get into law school 5-10 years ago?

  10. […] law schools will pay people to enroll. I wish students read more of these articles to find out that their strange dream of attending […]

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