Home / General / Leftist writer discovers major social injustice: new law grads get paid way too much

Leftist writer discovers major social injustice: new law grads get paid way too much


Matt Bruenig’s auto-bio at his blog:

I write about politics, the economy, and political theory, primarily with a focus on the set of interlocking issues that affect poor and working people. My writing is informed by a leftist political perspective that draws upon a diverse set of historical and contemporary leftist intellectuals. In particular, the various theories of egalitarian distributive justice that began with John Rawls have had the most influence on me, with Amartya Sen’s capability approach to distributive justice being perhaps the most influential.

In addition to this blog, I’ve written for some other publications, including The Atlantic (I, II), The New Republic, The American Prospect, Salon (I, II), The Week, and at my home base of sorts: Demos’ Policy Shop.

Bruenig’s leftist political perspective in re the Lawyer Problem:

In 2012, the median income for lawyers in this country was around $113,000, more than triple the national median income for all occupations. Why such high pay? In significant part, it’s because we have made becoming a lawyer exceedingly difficult, which has the effect of driving up the prices lawyers can charge for their services. . .

The legal profession and everything that touches it is flush with silly amounts of cash. This is a direct result of America’s legal licensing regime. And this surplus of cash creates an upper class of legal industry professionals making way more money than they ought to.

The big scandal in all of this is not that law students are somehow getting a raw deal because of the debt they undertake in their arduous path through the credential gate. It’s that the whole system wastes a ton of money that could be spent on more useful things than lining the pockets of lawyers and law professors.

By making it easier to become a lawyer, we could undermine this malicious dynamic. Make law schools two years instead of three. Or better yet: Get rid of law schools altogether and make law an undergraduate degree. Eliminate the bar exam or, if you’d like, make passage of it the only requirement to practice law and get rid of all the rest of the qualifications. One way or another, we should do what it takes to flood the market with legal credentials and drag lawyers down into the pits [of] financial normality with the rest of the middle class.

This perspective sounds a whole lot like Fantasy Libertarian Economics 101 to me, but maybe I need to re-read A Theory of Justice.

In any case, arguing that law school graduates make too much money because the median income for “lawyers” in the US is $113,000 is akin to claiming that academics are overpaid because the average salary for “professors” right now is $119,000.

The fallacy at the core of such arguments is that they simply assume barriers to entry are as a matter of fact (as opposed to as a matter of overly simplistic economic theory) maintaining high incomes for people who are currently getting JDs and doctoral degrees. That hypothesis only seems plausible if your income statistics are limited to a misleading subset of the relevant social category. Thus law school graduates are magically transformed into people with established careers as lawyers, while the enormous group of people with advanced degrees who teach or try to teach at colleges and universities become tenured full professors.

The punch line here is that Breunig isn’t some charmingly naive anthropologist who believes that while “we have a very, very limited demand for brilliant poet-musicians . . .we have an infinite demand for corporate lawyers; anybody who can get a law degree will get a job.” No Breunig is — wait for it — a brand new graduate of Boston University’s law school!

Let’s glance for a moment at his classmates’ employment outcomes (these stats are for 2013 BU grads as of February 15, 2014):

Total graduates: 278

Total graduates with arguably real legal jobs nine months after graduation: 169 (Full-time non-temp bar passage required, minus school-funded “jobs” and one putative sole practitioner).

Total unemployed or severely underemployed graduates: (unemployed, employed in jobs that were both part-time and short term, or status unknown): 65

How exactly do these stats reflect a successful cartel whose barriers to entry have driven up wages for law graduates — excuse me, “lawyers” — to dizzying heights? And note that these are the graduates of a high-ranked law school! (BU is a top 25ish school, meaning it’s around the 87th percentile of ABA accredited institutions).

Again, let us leave the world of economic and political theory, and talk about practice:

Marin County District Attorney
3501 Civic Center Drive, Room 130
San Rafael, CA 94903
Deputy District Attorney (Uncompensated)


Position Description:

The Marin County District Attorney’s Office is seeking applications from attorneys who are willing to accept unpaid, temporary positions that offer a valuable opportunity to gain courtroom experience including trying misdemeanor jury trials. Successful applicants will serve as sworn Deputy District Attorneys with responsibilities that include handling daily criminal calendars, handling various motions, trying misdemeanor jury trials, and conducting legal research. These are FULL TIME positions that require a minimum commitment of six months and may continue for up to one year. Due to budgetary constraints, the Marin County District Attorney’s Office is unable to hire successful applicants at the conclusion of their uncompensated term. Successful applicants may not engage in the practice of law outside of the office during their uncompensated term.
Position Requirement:

Applicants must possess a J.D. degree from a law school approved by the American Bar Association and be a current, active member of the California State Bar. Successful candidates must pass a criminal background investigation including a fingerprint check.
Minimum Requirements:

No experience is required but only applicants with outstanding academic records and superior oratory and writing skills will be considered. Applicants invited for an interview will be required to submit a writing sample.
Application Information:

Please submit a cover letter, resume and copy of your law school transcript by e-mail or US Mail. No telephone calls please. We will contact you if we believe an interview is appropriate or if further information is required.

Barry Borden
Chief Deputy District Attorney
3501 Civic Center Drive, Room 130
San Rafael, CA 94903
[email protected]

The current market-clearing salary for an entry-level DA job in Marin County, with its oh-so-reasonable cost of living, appears to be zero. So it looks as if “lawyers” are being “dragged down into the pits of financial normalcy with the rest of the middle class” quite effectively as it is.

h/t Matt Leichter

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