The Law School Bubble
December 27, 2011 11:56 AM   Subscribe

There has been an increasing outcry over the bleak job prospects facing law school graduates. Paul Campos, author of the "Inside The Law School Scam" blog, argues that continued high enrollment at law schools may be due to "lemming psychology".
posted by reenum (94 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
Thanks for giving me something to forward to everyone who keeps nagging me to go to law school.
posted by mek at 11:58 AM on December 27, 2011 [6 favorites]


I'm so relieved that I can characterize my decision not to go to law school as proof of my bold, free-thinking iconoclasm and not because I was too lazy to fill out the applications.
posted by Copronymus at 12:04 PM on December 27, 2011 [7 favorites]


These guys only think in terms of BigLaw as being "the law." It ain't.
posted by Ironmouth at 12:04 PM on December 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Is fewer lawyers a bad thing?
posted by Cranberry at 12:08 PM on December 27, 2011


Is fewer lawyers a bad thing?

Is reading the links that hard?
posted by joe lisboa at 12:09 PM on December 27, 2011 [6 favorites]


What's "BigLaw," Ironmouth? I'm honestly curious; I don't know much about law (though some of my fellow political science grad students had done it) and it seemed like the lead article above was specifically taking private law practices into account.
posted by koeselitz at 12:09 PM on December 27, 2011


These guys only think in terms of BigLaw as being "the law." It ain't.


You're right; it definitely isn't. But the problem is that in the US (and Canada is heading that way too) law school tuition is so outrageously high that the debt loads students graduate with can increasingly only be serviced by the salaries that 'Biglaw' can provide.
posted by modernnomad at 12:09 PM on December 27, 2011 [6 favorites]


No, really, fewer lawyers is not a bad thing. Capiltalism has caplitalised all the wrong things in this country. I have little to no sympathy.
posted by nevercalm at 12:11 PM on December 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


TL/DR: Turns out, there really ain't no such thing as a free lunch, but writing smug articles about the state of the legal job market comes close.
posted by gracedissolved at 12:11 PM on December 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's just that bird law in this country-- it's not governed by reason.
posted by The White Hat at 12:12 PM on December 27, 2011 [13 favorites]


Taking things seriously for a moment: the "law school bubble" is endemic of the bigger bubble, which is education in general. This is all spillover from structural unemployment. Plenty of people graduated in 08/09, looked at their job prospects, and took on more debt for more school, in the desperate hope their situation would improve. Alas.
posted by mek at 12:12 PM on December 27, 2011 [18 favorites]


No, really, fewer lawyers is not a bad thing. Capiltalism has caplitalised all the wrong things in this country. I have little to no sympathy.

By all means, let's not let any sympathy for actual people get in the way of our hatred of systems.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 12:14 PM on December 27, 2011 [15 favorites]


There is far more to law than BigLaw, but there is nothing besides BigLaw that justifies incurring $200k debt.

It's not a problem which greater foresight among 22-25 year olds is going to solve. The government and banks will solve it by becoming much more stringent in underwriting loan guarantees and non-guaranteed private loans, respectively. Max loan eligibility at a particular should have a reasonable relationship to its alumni's demonstrated record of earnings power.
posted by MattD at 12:17 PM on December 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


(4) It's not like the federal government is going to loan me $200,000 to start a new Asian fusion restaurant or to send my band on a 16-city small venue tour.

This is more or less self-explanatory. Seriously, I grow increasingly convinced that many of the people now going to law school, especially lower-tier law schools, are doing so because, in the short-term, it seems obviously preferable to:

(a) Working retail ; (b) Flat-out unemployment; (c) Moving back in with Mom and Dad while negotiating the financial challenges of (a) or (b).


This. I had the realization one morning that "oh shit. I'm a senior in college majoring in English; what do I do now?" I went to a good college and had good grades, and this was before the days of mass unemployment for recent graduates. But there was no obvious place for me to go. So I went to law school, because when you graduate from there, you go and work as a lawyer.

I am very lucky in that it has worked out for me - I am gainfully employed and like my work - but for lots of my classmates the only thing they got out of it was a little coupon book to pay their student loans each month.
posted by AgentRocket at 12:18 PM on December 27, 2011 [8 favorites]


Relevent?
posted by Confess, Fletch at 12:26 PM on December 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


For any non-lawyers reading this thread who were as confused as I was, here is a definition of "BigLaw" that I found helpful. Although I suppose that, instead of giving helpful links, I should probably be recommending that you pay one of the lawyers here to give you answers.
posted by koeselitz at 12:28 PM on December 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


No, really, fewer lawyers is not a bad thing.

Sure. Up until the point when you actually. y'know, need a lawyer, but you don't have shipping containers full of cash.
posted by Thorzdad at 12:29 PM on December 27, 2011 [9 favorites]


If I'd chosen to go to welding school instead of law school, my hourly income would be slightly lower, but there would be so many more hours of work that it wouldn't matter. Plus, I'd be a productive contributor to the economy instead of a lawyer.
posted by 1adam12 at 12:41 PM on December 27, 2011 [4 favorites]


Not to diminish the problem in any way (the US unemployment rate is huge in all sectors) however there are plenty of uses for a law degree other than actually practicing as a lawyer. In the game of life, the lawyer is the person who reads the back of the box, and that kind of person can add value to a lot of things. All areas of the finance industry need them, any large corporations or public service departments need them, any industry that deals with dodgy customers or is in itself highly regulated (eg debt collection, rental property management, gambling) need them. Lobby groups and political parties need them. Non-profits and charities need them. Mediation and dispute resolution services need them.

Knowing how the law works as a concept in society is a very useful skill. The majority of folks just go with what they think is right or have seen on TV.

American law degrees are fairly portable to other nations; you will have to do anything from a semester to a postgrad degree, however the basics of law as a social concept, past the adversarial/inquisitorial divide, are broadly portable.

Again, I acknowledge that it's hard out there and there are way, way too many legal graduates and present students for the profession to support. Also the US student debt system is a horrendous policy screwup that has almost ruined American society's intellectual and innovative strengths. However if you want a degree that has broad application to pretty much any area of human endeavour that involves formal institutionalized rules, law is a good choice for that.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 12:46 PM on December 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Let them sell Cali Outdoor.
posted by jsavimbi at 12:46 PM on December 27, 2011


BigLaw is sort of a slippery term. koeselitz's link is an okay definition but from a law student's perspective, BigLaw has more to do with a very specific career track.

BigLaw firms generally:
1. Hire summer associates whom they will generally offer permanent jobs. This means law students are hired for their second summer at the beginning of their 2L year and, all things equal, will probably be asked to come back after they graduate as full-time employees.
2. Pay a high, standardized salary, which increases at a lockstep pace with every year of seniority (though this is changing a bit). Generally they start at $160k in NYC, Chicago, California, Texas, $145k elsewhere. They pay their summer associates a pro-rated first year salary.
3. Have very high billable hours requirements (2000 a year or more) and expect their associates to work long hours and generally be available to work around the clock on no notice.
4. Are "up or out," meaning you will either make partner (which is extremely unlikely) or you will be pushed out of the firm within three to eight years.
5. Have big corporate clients and work on very high-value, complex, and usually highly commercial matters.

There are firms with only a couple hundred attorneys who fit this model and are generally considered "BigLaw."

When you look at the salary distribution of law grads, it's "bimodal," meaning there's a big chunk of people making six figures and a bigger chunk clustered around $40-50k. BigLaw is almost entirely responsible for the former. Basically you can only get these jobs if you have good grades at one of the top 25 or so schools (and the lower ranked your school, the better your grades need to be), or if you're at the very top of your class at a lower ranked school.
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 12:46 PM on December 27, 2011 [17 favorites]


Having elected for a Master's in Library and Information Science over law school, I am now in welding school and selling the animals I raise for meat. Well, I'm selling them for money, but they are going to be eaten. I'll come back to this thread in ten years or so and post about how well that worked out for me.
posted by stet at 12:57 PM on December 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


So after the higher education bubble bursts, what's the next bubble? I'm thinking it will involve corporations making ludicrous, government-backed loans to middle class people led to believe they'll see incredible returns on their "investment", and when the returns fail to materialize the loans will then hang around their necks for life and/or get paid back to the corporations with our tax dollars
posted by crayz at 1:07 PM on December 27, 2011


Not to diminish the problem in any way (the US unemployment rate is huge in all sectors) however there are plenty of uses for a law degree other than actually practicing as a lawyer. In the game of life, the lawyer is the person who reads the back of the box, and that kind of person can add value to a lot of things. All areas of the finance industry need them, any large corporations or public service departments need them, any industry that deals with dodgy customers or is in itself highly regulated (eg debt collection, rental property management, gambling) need them. Lobby groups and political parties need them. Non-profits and charities need them. Mediation and dispute resolution services need them.

Actually, what all those sorts of entities need is not some person with a law degree. They need someone with substantial experience practicing law in those particular areas who either serves as in-house or outside counsel specifically or who has left the practice of law full-time but who can still serve in an advisory capacity.

A new law school grad is not "the person who reads the back of the box." I mean, sure, they can read the back of the box. But they won't see what you're hoping they will until they've had a few years of practice to gain the knowledge necessary to actually add value. There's a good reason why first year associates have lower hourly rates than partners.
posted by The World Famous at 1:11 PM on December 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


Too many laws = too many lawyers.
posted by sfts2 at 1:11 PM on December 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


Too many laws = too many lawyers.

What is the ideal number of laws?

Is it your contention that, in the absence of legal recourse, people have fewer disputes?
posted by The World Famous at 1:28 PM on December 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


Guys, guys I've found the problem:

How the hell do you accumulate $110,000 of debt for two years of education?

I don't know about *your* university education, but I certainly never felt like I was really getting $40-$65/hr out of every class.

The main requirements to run a law school these days is a quiet room and access to LexisNexis. What's the deal with the tuition?

Don't even get me started on the notion that being a lawyer should be a meal ticket to upperclass dom. Bitch, please, you ain't building no bridges nor saving no lives.
posted by pmv at 1:32 PM on December 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


TWF, sorry but not going to rise to trollbait. How you take that out of what I wrote is unfathomable.
posted by sfts2 at 1:33 PM on December 27, 2011


What is the ideal number of laws?

four.
clean your room, don't kill people, drive on the right, and don't buy cocaine in front of a cop.
posted by sexyrobot at 1:40 PM on December 27, 2011 [5 favorites]


All I can think about now is putting lemmings on a turntable. (Note to self: Have turntable repaired.)
posted by dortmunder at 1:41 PM on December 27, 2011


pmv: law school in the US is three years.
posted by millipede at 1:43 PM on December 27, 2011


Guys, guys I've found the problem:

How the hell do you accumulate $110,000 of debt for two years of education?

I don't know about *your* university education, but I certainly never felt like I was really getting $40-$65/hr out of every class.

The main requirements to run a law school these days is a quiet room and access to LexisNexis. What's the deal with the tuition?


There's a lot of actually wrong information here. For starters, law school is three years, not two. For a second, the requirements to run a law school these days still include professors, as it always has. You don't actually use LexisNexis for many law school classes (with research and writing being the notable exception), you use casebooks and professors. The rise of educational costs in the US is it's own scandal, but it's not like running a law school is especially cheap because LexisNexis exists.

Don't even get me started on the notion that being a lawyer should be a meal ticket to upperclass dom. Bitch, please, you ain't building no bridges nor saving no lives.

I think maybe you and that strawman should get a private room to fight in, since that's not what anyone here is talking about.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 1:45 PM on December 27, 2011 [5 favorites]


Don't even get me started on the notion that being a lawyer should be a meal ticket to upperclass dom. Bitch, please, you ain't building no bridges nor saving no lives.

"Should" has little to do with whether the expectation is historically reasonable. I'm sure it's no surprise to you that lots of people who are affluent do work that is socially neutral or detrimental, and lots of people who do socially positive things struggle financially.

People harbor all kinds of weird stereotyped resentments about lawyers. It's just a job function that can be applied toward substantively good or bad ends. Nobody thinks accountants are uniformly evil and/or rent-seekers, for example.
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 1:53 PM on December 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


sfts2: “Too many laws = too many lawyers.”

Yes, this certainly holds; since lawyers are the ones who make laws, we should get rid of the excess lawyers if we want to get rid of the unnecessary laws. It's always struck me as odd that so very many people waste time voting or lobbying Congress to change unnecessary or excessive laws. What they ought to be doing is convincing lawyers to go into lawn maintenance instead.

This solution strikes me as much easier than voting or lobbying Congress, too, considering the fact that lawn maintenance tends to pay a lot more than practicing law.
posted by koeselitz at 2:00 PM on December 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


The landscape has changed so much from back when I went to law school athat I sometimes find it hard to get in the mindset of someone contemplating applying these days. I went to a good private law school at a time when these "Big Law" firms couldn't get enough new associates; the only pressure was are you going to go to Cleary, Wachtell, Cravath, Davis Polk, S&C, or Simpson. I'm smart enough, and I worked hard in law school, and I think I got an offer to all of them other than Wachtell--and I'm no Supreme Court clerk. In fact, I think I got an offer all 24 places I interviewed other than Wachtell and, for some reason, Morgan Lewis.

When I matriculated, there was no question whatsoever that I would get a job that would pay me $160,000 (or whatever it was back then) the moment I showed up, despite not knowing what an indenture is, or what a buyer would look for in a stock purchase agreement. It made perfect sense for me to borrow the full amount of my tuition. I actually even borrowed thousands of dollars extra (without breaking a sweat) to get a little more comfortable.

Those days are long, long since gone. I've managed to remain employed in Big Law throughout the bubble, and it is lucrative work if you have it (with my bonus, my take home pay for December was more than my SO's take home pay for the year, for some perspective). But I repeatedly meet young people who have no idea what awaits them, and I find this terrifying.

I recently went to a function for alumni and students at my alma mater who are interested in law, and I whiled away 20 minutes or so with a young woman who wants to be First Amendment lawyer (whatever that means; it seems as universal as junior high schoolers wanting to be marine biologists). It was depressing. She had no idea whatsoever about the state of the legal market in the US, the demands of law school, the crushing debt. No idea, for instance, that when you borrow $150,000 your loan payment is easily $1,000 per month. Or that she could not discharge her student loans in bankruptcy in the unfortunate event that she didn't find a job that could cover that monthly grand

A lot of the coverage on the "Law School Scam" seems to be just preaching to the choir--for whatever reason, the message is being lost on the potential applicants who need most to hear it. Kids today seem to think it's the path of least resistance, but in reality it's one of the paths of highest resistance.

Law school costs a lot of money, and if you're footing the bill, it only really makes sense if you're going to make a lot of money. Making a lot of money is by no means guaranteed (or even likely) these days. And, outside of paying your non-dischargeable debts, making money truly is not as important as family, friends, health.
posted by 5845(f)(1)(D) at 2:10 PM on December 27, 2011 [16 favorites]


new word for the day: scamblogger
posted by telstar at 2:16 PM on December 27, 2011


Yeah, cry me a river.
posted by OHenryPacey at 2:45 PM on December 27, 2011


The landscape has changed so much from back when I went to law school athat I sometimes find it hard to get in the mindset of someone contemplating applying these days. I went to a good private law school at a time when these "Big Law" firms couldn't get enough new associates; the only pressure was are you going to go to Cleary, Wachtell, Cravath, Davis Polk, S&C, or Simpson.

And the thing is—it's still almost like that at a handful of schools. Things have fallen off a bit, but if you go to Columbia or NYU or Chicago, your odds at getting a BigLaw gig are still pretty good; over the last five years it's gone from a 99% certainty to an 80% certainty, and where the top of the class used to get 15 offers, now they get 5-10. But the situation is not terrible for people at the top.

And this continuing reality, I think, buoys unrealistic expectations among law students elsewhere, and that in turn buoys schools' ability to continue to charge $150,000 for a law degree.

I don't have a lot of hope it will change unless and until things really fall apart from top to bottom.
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 2:49 PM on December 27, 2011


>For starters, law school is three years, not two.

Here in the Commonwealth they tend to be two years, iirc, so! I think that varies.

>For a second, the requirements to run a law school these days still include professors, as it always has.

Obviously. That was implied in the quiet room. What I'm trying to say is, there aren't material expenses like educating a doctor.

>I think maybe you and that strawman should get a private room to fight in, since that's not what anyone here is talking about.

I should have been more articulate, for [other than the ridiculous rise in tuition fees] I think this is exactly what these articles are about.

The problem here ultimately is that people go into Law School expecting a career, and leave finding out that actually the market is saturated and the upper echelons are entirely obsessed by status, blah blah blah.

Meanwhile, I don't think it's unreasonable to get some shmuck to vet a contract and charge me less than $200/hr. It's just hard to justify the tuition fees otherwise.

Articles that complain about an excess of law students without also trying to think critically about the rates of tuition increase often strike me as arguing for raising barriers of entry, which suits existing lawyers just fine.
posted by pmv at 2:56 PM on December 27, 2011


The problem here ultimately is that people go into Law School expecting a career, and leave finding out that actually the market is saturated and the upper echelons are entirely obsessed by status, blah blah blah.

The nerve. These people going to professional school expect to have an actual profession when they're done? What a bunch of entitled pricks! They should be happy that their parents have a basement for them to live in.

Back in my day, we went to law school because it was good for us. We didn't need somebody offering us a job or a better life than what we had.

Meanwhile, I don't think it's unreasonable to get some shmuck to vet a contract and charge me less than $200/hr. It's just hard to justify the tuition fees otherwise.

Whatever your monthly expenses are, I want you to try saving $1,600 every month out of it. Try it. Save $1,600 out of your monthly wage. Do that for three months and then come back and tell us how easy it was.

No? Not so easy? Imagine thousands of people having to do that every month -- and dress professionally at the same time, and do a high-stakes job in which a highly-paid, experienced professional on the other side will point out all of your mistakes to another, still-more-experienced person, who will referee between the two of you. Do that job 50 hours a week (we called that the "mommy track" at my firm).

Or, go back to working retail or whatever it was you did before you went to law school -- but remember, you start every month $1,600 in the hole and you've been out of the workforce for three years.

In the mean time, vet your own goddamn contracts.
posted by gauche at 3:23 PM on December 27, 2011 [11 favorites]


>Imagine thousands of people having to do that every month -- and dress professionally at the same time, and do a high-stakes job in which a highly-paid, experienced professional on the other side will point out all of your mistakes to another, still-more-experienced person, who will referee between the two of you.

Martyrdom aside, I would call your profession demanding but not difficult (in much the same way that what I do is demanding but not intrinsically hard).

I need you to vet my contracts for the reason you need me to build you websites.

>The nerve. These people going to professional school expect to have an actual profession when they're done? What a bunch of entitled pricks!

Uhm. Yes. Almost by definition. In any job or service your ability to make money depends… on the existing demand. Capitalism, etc, etc.

I hate taking the libertarian view on this, but no one made you go to law school.

What if you had to service that $1,600/mo loan because you decided to become a naturopath?

My problem is that I think you got ripped off when you went to school. On a societal level, I think having cheap access to lawyers is tremendously socially useful. The more cheap access to lawyers, the better.
posted by pmv at 3:53 PM on December 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


Martyrdom aside, I would call your profession demanding but not difficult (in much the same way that what I do is demanding but not intrinsically hard).

I love opposing counsel who thinks litigation is demanding but not difficult. They make my job so much easier.
posted by The World Famous at 4:08 PM on December 27, 2011


(psh - even grammar is difficult for me)
posted by The World Famous at 4:09 PM on December 27, 2011


I also feel bad for the people who go to law school because they don't really know what else to do, but who know how to perform academically. Then they get a job and discover they despise practicing law. That is a pretty costly mistake to make.

I remember talking to a guy who went to Yale. He said he loved law school, which he said was more or less a three year political philosophy seminar, but then came the so-called real world.
posted by thelonius at 4:23 PM on December 27, 2011 [4 favorites]


>I love opposing counsel who thinks litigation is demanding but not difficult. They make my job so much easier.

Maybe I'm blessed for considering few of the liberal professions to be hard.

I think coal mining is hard. I think doing any kind of healthcare work is hard. I think flying planes is hard.

We, for the most part… we write words into computers man. Like, whatever. I'm being only a little facetious. Write better words!

Feel free to provide counter examples.
posted by pmv at 4:30 PM on December 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Bitch, please, you ain't building no bridges nor saving no lives.

I was a lawyer. I worked in child endangerment and community law for many years. As a point of fact, we did save lives. We protected children. We helped people get away from their stalkers. We helped stop people from beating their wives. We helped put drug dealers in prison.

Now, I draft laws that protect people's human rights.

So stop tarring me with the same brush that you are using to stripe that guy that represents tobacco companies, OK? Because you clearly have no idea what it is that lawyers do.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 4:32 PM on December 27, 2011 [29 favorites]


My favorite thing about law school threads on Metafilter is how defensive the lawyers get. Really, it's not that hard to just admit that your job is neither especially ennobling, uniquely difficult, nor indicative of exceptional sensibilities and faculties of mind, and that you do it to make a living, like nearly everyone else. It's kind of freeing, I promise, you should try it.
posted by enn at 4:59 PM on December 27, 2011 [6 favorites]


>So stop tarring me with the same brush that you are using to stripe that guy that represents tobacco companies, OK? Because you clearly have no idea what it is that lawyers do.

Very few lawyers do what you do. In fact, what you do is often brought up in these threads as an unrealistic expectation, the sort of thing an idealistic first-year might say they want to do. And I have an inkling it's even harder for you to pay for your loans.

Lawyers on the end of the spectrum that I'm likely to deal with are far more mundane: they write contracts, they review them, they notarize documents, they interact with the legal system on my behalf (someone didn't follow through with a contract, I need the bank to give me access to my dead grandmother's bank account), they tell me when I'm doing something boneheaded.

I have some idea of what lawyers do.
posted by pmv at 5:08 PM on December 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


My favorite thing about law school threads on Metafilter is how defensive the lawyers get. Really, it's not that hard to just admit that your job is neither especially ennobling, uniquely difficult, nor indicative of exceptional sensibilities and faculties of mind, and that you do it to make a living, like nearly everyone else. It's kind of freeing, I promise, you should try it.

Some legal jobs are especially ennobling. Some are uniquely difficult. I wouldn't say that any particular jobs are indicative of exceptional sensibilities or faculties of mind, but doing them particularly well is. Many lawyers do it for a living, but many do not.

I'm not sure why you think it would be freeing for someone to "admit" to the truth of someone else's facile, unsupported litany of overbroad assertions. I can only assume that you have experience doing that, based on your promise.

But just for kicks, what is the basis for your assertion that my particular job is " neither especially ennobling, uniquely difficult, nor indicative of exceptional sensibilities and faculties of mind?"
posted by The World Famous at 5:15 PM on December 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm all for lawyers. What bugs the suit out of me is when law firms bill me for a partner rate when I *know* the paralegal is the one that did 90% of the work. I've had some long discussions with billing departments about just such a tactic.
posted by dejah420 at 5:19 PM on December 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


People who go to dental school have a close to 100% guarantee of becoming a dentist. People who go to med school have a close to 100% guarantee of becoming a doctor. It is a shame that law schools are organized in such a way that you can pay >$100k to go to law school and not even have a bare shot at becoming a practicing lawyer. I have no idea why people feel the need to kick these law school grads when they're down after they made a huge mistake.

The more cheap access to lawyers, the better.

Not really sure I want to pay for the "cheap" lawyer if it's a service that only a lawyer can provide.
posted by deanc at 5:27 PM on December 27, 2011 [4 favorites]


The World Famous, I don't think the burden of proof is on me; it is on the person making the extraordinary claim that their profession is qualitatively different from all other professions, and that in it excellence is the rule and mediocrity the exception.
posted by enn at 5:29 PM on December 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't think the burden of proof is on me; it is on the person making the extraordinary claim that their profession is qualitatively different from all other professions ...

Well, are you talking about the profession, or are you talking about lawyers who get defensive in lawyer-bashing Mefi threads because their jobs are enobling or hard or indicative of exceptional sensibilities? I don't think I've ever seen a lawyer on Metafilter assert that the entire profession is enobling, hard, exceptional, etc., but, sure, there are some of us who see our individual jobs as some of those things. TWF certainly wasn't talking about the entire profession.

Me, I represent poor mentally ill people in landlord/tenant cases in NYC. It's not the most difficult area of law, but it's one of the most difficult client populations. Is it uniquely difficult? Well, mental health professionals also spend all day working with people with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, major depression, etc., so I certainly wouldn't say it's uniquely difficult. It is difficult. And when I pull out a hugely successful outcome for a client who is so mean due to his illness that his nightly manic email attacks on me made me cry sometimes, I do feel like it's a little enobling. I did that for an impossible person because it's what I do and it's what I want to do. It can also be enobling for my clients. So many of them are used to being utterly powerless that they love having a lawyer. They love it! They've never had someone who's job is just to listen to them and do what they want (within the bounds of legal ethics). It may not be uniquely difficult or indicative of exceptional faculties, but it is pretty damn cool. So, yeah, I get defensive when people talk shit about the profession as a whole.
posted by Mavri at 5:41 PM on December 27, 2011 [15 favorites]


The World Famous, I don't think the burden of proof is on me; it is on the person making the extraordinary claim that their profession is qualitatively different from all other professions, and that in it excellence is the rule and mediocrity the exception.

Ok. Who is that person and where did they make that claim? Let's get 'em over here and have them defend their position.
posted by The World Famous at 5:43 PM on December 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


Please sign these papers indicating your profession is not enobling or hard or indicative of exceptional sensibilities.
posted by telstar at 6:00 PM on December 27, 2011 [9 favorites]


Yeah, I don't see anyone claiming that lawyers are brilliant people who wake up every morning and, through their unprecedented toil, save millions of kittens from certain death or something. What I do see is some weird schadenfreude, apparently based on some unspoken stereotypes about lawyers, from people who are happy that law students and young lawyers are immensely fucked with six-figure debt and will never be able to make a living in their chosen profession. How "ennobling" it must be to make baseless assumptions about the motives of people you've never met and then shit on them when they're down.
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 6:20 PM on December 27, 2011 [11 favorites]


deanc:

>People who go to * school have a close to 100% guarantee of becoming a *

Not quite! Dentists are actually a close analogy in that they mostly set up private shops. Supply is probably more constrained as it's not a popular thing for aimless English grads to specialize in ;).

>Not really sure I want to pay for the "cheap" lawyer if it's a service that only a lawyer can provide.

Well… I wouldn't want to get the cheapest lawyer I can find to defend me in my murder trial. But if I need a document notarized, or an amicable divorce resolved I don't see why I need the sharpest legal mind on offer.

There are tons of services that are almost prerequisites for fully enjoying your rights as a citizen that are shut off for most people because they're so expensive.


Mavri:

>It may not be uniquely difficult or indicative of exceptional faculties, but it is pretty damn cool. So, yeah, I get defensive when people talk shit about the profession as a whole.

People like you and His thoughts were red thoughts are the exception. Please keep up the good work!

The majority [of people] hold fairly boring, far less "socially useful" jobs. Retail lawyering. BigLaw. There's nothing wrong with that! They're necessary. They're just not special.


dixiecupdrinking:

>What I do see is some weird schadenfreude, apparently based on some unspoken stereotypes about lawyers, from people who are happy that law students and young lawyers are immensely fucked with six-figure debt and will never be able to make a living in their chosen profession.

I wouldn't call it schadenfreude… You're just not owed a job upon graduation.

The crying shame here isn't that you can't get a job. Big whoop. Lots of people with lots of education are in the same boat. The crying shame is that there are people more or less conspiring to rip you off while you get that education.

I can't blame people for going into Law, because it's impossible to ascertain if it's a terrible idea a priori. Based on what people I know in law school, and having played with a few LSAT questions, though, I increasingly think that the whole institution is just an artificial barrier to entry.

If you could practice "Everyday Law" with a two year diploma after high school and $20,000 in tuition and earn $50-70k we as a society would probably be better off.

The part about ennobling and stereotypes comes out because it seems some folks believe the social contract they were taught existed should continue to apply irrespective of the actual job market. That and whoever disagrees must not have any idea of what lawyers do.

The World Famous: Come now. You can do better than that.
posted by pmv at 6:43 PM on December 27, 2011


I actually think working 80+ hours a week is quite difficult, even if mostly you just type words into a computer.
posted by prefpara at 6:52 PM on December 27, 2011 [4 favorites]


That said, I do agree with this: "If you could practice "Everyday Law" with a two year diploma after high school and $20,000 in tuition and earn $50-70k we as a society would probably be better off."
posted by prefpara at 6:52 PM on December 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


I do agree with this: "If you could practice "Everyday Law" with a two year diploma after high school and $20,000 in tuition and earn $50-70k we as a society would probably be better off."

I agree with the idea behind it, but even simple lawyering is a reading and writing kind of job. I'd want to see maybe a four-year undergrad degree with a legal specialization. Lowering the barrier to entry would solve a lot of problems. There are, at the same time, too many and too few lawyers in the US. There are a ton of lawyers, yet not enough to do affordable day-to-day lawyering for middle-class and poor people. Making a legal education cheaper and more geared toward learning a trade would prepare people to hang out a shingle, charge lower prices, and handle the relatively simple matters that a lot of people need.
posted by Mavri at 7:09 PM on December 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


The crying shame is that there are people more or less conspiring to rip you off while you get that education.

Yes, this is true. Which is what the article is about. Which is why they are called "scam bloggers." They believe law school is a scam. Hence this FPP.

The only reason we are talking about the rest of it is because, anytime there is a story about law students being systematically screwed, multiple people chime in with some version of "good riddance," "lawyers are scum/unproductive members of society," and/or, "who do these kids think they are that they're entitled to be rich?"

These comments have nothing to do with anything that any real law student or lawyer has said or done, as far as I can tell, in this thread or in the linked article or any other relevant place. They're based solely on stereotypes and neither contribute to the discussion nor ameliorate the central problem posted about here, which is that thousands of 20-something law students will spend the rest of their working lives collectively paying back to the federal government hundreds of millions of dollars they borrowed to attend law schools based on false pretenses. That, in conjunction with the fact that practicing law was traditionally one of the surer ways to get out of the working class and into a white collar profession, means this is a story about more than some snotty wanna be leeches crying about not being handed jobs.
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 7:15 PM on December 27, 2011 [10 favorites]


Someone that knows better correct me if I'm off here, but doesn't getting a law degree and passing the bar basically set you up to be self-employed? You are a lawyer and can practice, whether that is out of your home office or you rent an office/desk.Obviously, you need to find clients, but if you network while in school and reach to your circle, you might get your first few clients, no?
posted by cmgonzalez at 7:28 PM on December 27, 2011


(Let's, for discussion's sake, ignore the probable huge loan debt for a second, since I know that's likely a huge barrier to doing this, as well as to doing work that benefits the poor and middle class.)
posted by cmgonzalez at 7:33 PM on December 27, 2011


cgonzalez, you're right, basically. The barriers to this being a legitimate option for most law grads are:

- Loan debt.
- Learning curves. You don't know how to practice law, really, with a law degree. This is often cited as a failure of legal education, and it is to some extent, but it's really more a function of the massive variety of legal issues that can come up in the real world, which no school could really prepare its grads for. You could spend years doing mergers in a big firm and be great at it and still have no idea how to handle some family law case that might walk in the door of a solo practitioner. You could figure it out, but what is going to pay you to be your guinea pig? This is why new lawyers need to latch on to law firms.
- Expenses. It costs a ton of money to run a law practice, especially malpractice insurance and access to legal research databases like Lexis or Westlaw.
- Difficulty of getting work. You need clients, who will pay, and enough of them who will pay enough to cover your overhead.
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 7:51 PM on December 27, 2011


(You could figure it out, but what client is going to pay you to be your guinea pig?)
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 7:53 PM on December 27, 2011


Someone that knows better correct me if I'm off here, but doesn't getting a law degree and passing the bar basically set you up to be self-employed? You are a lawyer and can practice, whether that is out of your home office or you rent an office/desk.Obviously, you need to find clients, but if you network while in school and reach to your circle, you might get your first few clients, no?

Some things to bear in mind: first, most small businesses fail, and law school emphatically doesn't prepare you to start and run a small business, even if you take the right courses for becoming a solo attorney, which many students don't.

Then there are the startup costs even if you work out of home, like malpractice insurance (approximately $1000-1500 per year), form books, and legal research services.

Finally, there are significant ethical restrictions on how attorneys can advertise and solicit clients. For example, generally speaking, an attorney can't solicit clients directly unless they are family or close friends. Building a client base is difficult, and it's something that law schools do not teach.
posted by jedicus at 7:57 PM on December 27, 2011


Someone that knows better correct me if I'm off here, but doesn't getting a law degree and passing the bar basically set you up to be self-employed? You are a lawyer and can practice, whether that is out of your home office or you rent an office/desk.Obviously, you need to find clients, but if you network while in school and reach to your circle, you might get your first few clients, no?

Not sure how it works in the US, but in Australia, you need to practice for two years under a more senior solicitor first. Then you get an unrestricted practicing certificate, and you can hang out your own shingle, if you so desire. I personally think this is a good system, because most baby lawyers are so green that they probably are capable of photosynthesis.

Very few lawyers do what you do. In fact, what you do is often brought up in these threads as an unrealistic expectation, the sort of thing an idealistic first-year might say they want to do.

There are thousands - thousands - of lawyers in the public service. Some of them are there out of idealism, some of them are there for better working conditions than can be found in the private sector. My point is, lots of lawyers do what I do.

My main objection to the tenor of the conversation in this thread is the proposition that lawyers are useless parasites on society.

I have many issues with the profession - in the top tier firms, what is often called BigLaw here (and where all the hate is usually directed), there is (IMO) an obscene culture of arrogance and abuse of junior employees, people working 80 and 90 hour weeks, and boring, routine work. There's a glut of young lawyers out there, and they get used and abused pretty hard because they're utterly replaceable. The profession is over-glamorised in the media, and a lot of young lawyers who believe they'll be living the life depicted in Boston Legal end up doing discovery for 3 years in an airlock. Work that could be done by a reasonably intelligent monkey often ends up getting done by a Rhodes scholar. I wasn't happy as a lawyer, which is why I'm no longer one.

On the other hand, only a fraction of lawyers are employed by top tier firms. I seriously doubt anyone has any problems with the masses of small town lawyers that draft wills for grandmothers, and represent people in fence disputes.

But ultimately, we all live in a society that runs on laws. We have a complex society that necessitates complex laws. Disputes get settled by lawyers. The regulations that keep streets built to the same specifications are drafted by lawyers. Companies can't sell you cars that explode because of lawyers. A hundred other little things that you take for granted.

It's not intrinsically noble, it's not amazing, it doesn't necessarily take a genius. It's work, like anything else, and it's work that needs to be done to keep our society running. At the extreme, it's very complex and very difficult. Top level lawyers are pretty smart. At the other end of the spectrum, I've met some lawyers that are unforgivably stupid, doing stuff that is incredibly boring and mundane (and still screwing it up).

It's almost like they're people or something.

And I have an inkling it's even harder for you to pay for your loans.

No, because I'm in Australia, and we have a different system. The Federal Government provides the loans, indexed to the CPI, and students repay the loans at a rate based on their income, with incentives for early repayment. University used to be free in this country before it became unsustainable - the current system still allows poor kids to go to university without crippling them for life if they can't make good.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 8:15 PM on December 27, 2011 [6 favorites]


if I need a document notarized

... then I go to a notary public, not a lawyer.

Look, if you want to argue that too many things require a lawyer when they probably don't, I agree with you. But the flooding of the market with far more lawyers than the market needs does not expand the available legal services to you and me. There are X number of jobs for lawyers available each year, and n*X people who graduate law school, where n > 1. That doesn't lower your bills, it just saddles you with a society of unemployed people burdened with law school debt. But I get the impression that you're a young computer programmer looking for another excuse to feel superior to humanities majors.
posted by deanc at 8:19 PM on December 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


The problem here ultimately is that people go into Law School expecting a career, and leave finding out that actually the market is saturated and the upper echelons are entirely obsessed by status, blah blah blah.

The nerve. These people going to professional school expect to have an actual profession when they're done? What a bunch of entitled pricks! They should be happy that their parents have a basement for them to live in.


Yeah, well, generations of liberal arts grads listening to snide "Would you like fries with that jokes" may not be that sympathetic to other folks suddenly discovering their degrees aren't the ticket to employability and wealth they expected.

Seriously, it's been de rigeur for people doing career-focused degrees to sneer at traditional liberal arts types for decades now. Do your research they get told, we don't need more academics, they get told, what's the value of studying poetry, the get asked. What sort of fucking moron borrows money for a worthless degree? Well, that's come to law school.

No? Not so easy? Imagine thousands of people having to do that every month -- and dress professionally at the same time, and do a high-stakes job in which a highly-paid, experienced professional on the other side will point out all of your mistakes to another, still-more-experienced person, who will referee between the two of you. Do that job 50 hours a week (we called that the "mommy track" at my firm).

Go cry to a coal miner and get back to me. Seriously.

I can feel a lot of sympathy for people who genuinely love the law and are staring at this pile of shit if they want to practise but, really, what proportion of folks going into law school is that, compared to people looking for an automagic career?

I actually think working 80+ hours a week is quite difficult, even if mostly you just type words into a computer.

Indeed, and we have a fuckton of productivity research that says anything over 45 - 50 hours a week is absolutely counterproductive in software, which has enough thinking involved that I assume it's similarly stupid in law. And yet we keep doing that in companies.

University used to be free in this country before it became unsustainable

You mean, "unsustainable if Boomers wanted their train of tax cuts to continue", surely?
posted by rodgerd at 8:22 PM on December 27, 2011 [10 favorites]


I read Mefi posts on the situation for law grads and it sounds heart-breaking. But I'm never sure if it's only like this in the US or if it's like this in other countries, too. I live in Canada, but perhaps this situation applies outside the US and Canada. Or maybe it matters more in the US, if tuition is so high - it becomes a high stakes game.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 8:36 PM on December 27, 2011


You mean, "unsustainable if Boomers wanted their train of tax cuts to continue", surely?

And redirection of public funds to pointless military expenditure, and the increase in Medicare and Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme costs due to aging boomers, and the Government encouraging a lot of people to go to university who would have been better off in a trade school or similar, and a million other things. But let's not derail the conversation with a rant on inappropriate and inefficient Government spending.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 8:37 PM on December 27, 2011


Given how much a lawyer still costs to hire, how does this work with an over supply of lawyers?

My friend needs a lawyer to give her advice on workplace injuries and workers' compensation - and she can't even find one who is willing to talk to her.
posted by jb at 9:37 PM on December 27, 2011


Given how much a lawyer still costs to hire, how does this work with an over supply of lawyers?

My friend needs a lawyer to give her advice on workplace injuries and workers' compensation - and she can't even find one who is willing to talk to her.


The problem is not an oversupply of lawyers, it's an oversupply of law degree graduates.

When I was a grad, I could barely help you out of a parking ticket. I figure it took me about two years of supervised practice to be useful as an individual lawyer. You learn the meat of the profession on the job. Law school is pretty much just theory, no matter how much moot court you do.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 9:42 PM on December 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


My friend needs a lawyer to give her advice on workplace injuries and workers' compensation - and she can't even find one who is willing to talk to her.

Ah, I know this one. Almost all of the money to be made in labor law is on the side of the alleged violator (e.g.,the employer) and, to a lesser extent, with unions. If you're just a normal person getting hosed and you need help, almost no one has a financial interest in helping you. You would be bad for business.
posted by 1adam12 at 9:50 PM on December 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Chausette, it's not quite so bad in Canada, since our tuition is more like $30-$55K total for all three years. But it's still really tough for new grads. In our first year, we were told that about 90% of students would have a job (an articling position) lined up by graduation. As the end of 3L neared, a sort of grim panic had begun to set in. Only about half had jobs lined up, and of that half, about half had any chance of being kept on as associates. For example, a friend of mine was hired by a Biglaw firm in Toronto, and knew she'd be competing with 17 other articling students for three associate positions. She made the cut, then lost her job anyway after the firm had to make unexpected budget cuts. I know a few people in my class who spent more than a year searching for an articling position, as you can't get called to the bar in Canada without completing your articles.
posted by keep it under cover at 2:45 AM on December 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Well, look: like a lot of people who went to academic grad school, I sometimes get irked by what seems like a massive entitlement complex among lawyers and law students. But that doesn't change the fact that the current situation is untenable and that there's something wrong whenever students finish their education with enormous debts that they'll never be able to pay off. I don't know how to fix it, especially since my sense is that undergraduates have really not got the memo about law school being a risky proposition right now, but I don't really think you can explain this away as an instance of lawyers thinking they're entitled to lavish lifestyles.
posted by craichead at 6:09 AM on December 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Law relies on scarcity and barriers to entry. The profession can only handle so many practising lawyers, especially when legal services are in many ways a Veblen good. The deans of various law schools which have all sprung up recently to piggyback off naive demand should be the ones blamed. They know they are contributing to an oversupply and they don't care because it is not difficult to ply undergrads with glossy brochures till they sign up for a very expensive liberal arts degree.

As an aside, as a lawyer, I always, always avoid arguments in my daily life. Arguments, debates, big and small: I just concede the point with a smile. A lot of acquaintances try to bait me and I never bite. It's not worth it. I argue, analyse and deconstruct for a living. I'm not going to argue in my leisure time when I'm not even getting paid. I am surprised that so many lawyers online are so strident and so argumentative. I don't think it's good for work/life balance.
posted by kid A at 6:20 AM on December 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


The source of a lot of lawyer bashing, I think, is because people treat the law the way they treat their health. Once the situation becomes dire they are ready to listen to advice. Usually at time the options are limited so they get mad at the lawyer/doctor.

My career is in software development, but I've fantasized about doing it over again and practicing law. I wouldn't do it now though. The legal market is a mess.
posted by dgran at 6:26 AM on December 28, 2011


Someone made the point above that law school is like dental school, but it really isn't.

In dental school, you are taught to be a practitioner; you have clinics; the curriculum is based around the health of the teeth. You are not taught, for instance, about how best to grow vegetables and then unleashed on the world and expected to fill cavitities.

In law school, you are generally taught to be a theorist; there is little to no practical component to law school, in my experience. It's as if a dentist spent their entire time in dental school learning about the Krebs cycle or something the molecular composition of dentin, and never once saw a tooth.

This does not need to be the case, but somewhere in history, elite law schools concluded that they are not trade schools, but graduate programs in legal philosophy. I hated law school for that very reason. Simply by nature of being elite (and also because they are cash cows for their parent universities--no labs, no expensive equipment, library is increasingly online), the elite schools continually raise tuition.

Because law is a status-obsessed industry, the less elite schools raised tuition in turn; by being less expensive, they were viewed as less valuable. Plus, leaving tuition low means that the university is leaving money on the table.

Because the Cravaths and Wachtells and DPWs and S&Cs and Simpsons and Clearys all want H/Y/S/C/NYU grads, they needed to pay more to junior associates, because the education cost more--though not because there was an intrinsic value to the young lawyers. Often the exact opposite--I'm a senior lawyer, and I typically redo the work of my junior associates, or I do it on my own and just discard their work without using it. It's just training for them, and a drag on my time.

Paying the associates more removes cost limitations on the elite law schools--when it's likely you'll make $160,000 right out of the gate, who cares if you pay $150,000 in tuition--it's an investment!

Then, the non-elite schools follow suit. The non-elite schools give a better grounding in practical law, but don't teach you how to run a business. So you lawyers would be best served by going to a firm (probably a small firm) or work under an established lawyer for at least a little while. But, those firm jobs are more scarce these days, and the first $1,000+ MONTHLY student loan comes due in, what, September after you graduate? Given than you'll spend the summer studying for the bar exam (the test and the prep probably costs $3,000 or so, assuming you only take it once), and you're just deep in the hole and getting deeper.

It's a bad cycle. Dentists will surely need to go into a practice early too--the initial outlays for equipment, rent, insurance, and staff are too high to be solo right out of the gate. But what the dentist has is an actual skill, not philosophy. In the end, dentists may be no happier or better off than lawyers, but I don't think the system is as corrupt.

These threads are always filled with those who think the issue is whether lawyers have a right to a really lucrative job as soon as they get their diplomas. It's not and no one is sayign that.

The issue is that the schools try to shill that lie in their application materials, and (typically) kids of 20, 21, 22 don't know to suspend disbelief (and presumably parents don't either, or are so proud of their exceptional children, or just don't want them at home, and they don't pull the brakes, either). It's depressing to see a 25-year-old kid in the hole for $150,000 for the next 30 years, with no ability under current law to get out from under that debt. That deep a hole really will ruin your life. It's hard to save $1,000+ a month on your average paycheck.

Lastly, no one is denying that there are a lot of graduate (and undergraduate) programs that are expensive and give no guarantee of gainful employment. The difference between a JD and MA in studio art, though, is that there is no association of studio art programs putting out bogus figures about how many graduates are employed in lucrative studio artist jobs. There is no comp lit cabal that touts a 98% employment rate. People do not matriculate at women's studies graduate programs being told up and down that they will get a job with an average starting salary of $100,000. There is much more transparency about your prospects; there are no illusions that you'll never make a mint on your MA in German literature.

These law school kids don't deserve a fancy job, they just deserve the truth so they can (hopefully) make better decisions about what $150,000 in debt means and what their prospects are. The point of these blog posts and these threads is nothing more than to be a voice that someone might find while surfing the web to balance out against the much louder hucksters of these expensive educations.
posted by 5845(f)(1)(D) at 7:05 AM on December 28, 2011 [11 favorites]


These law school kids don't deserve a fancy job, they just deserve the truth so they can (hopefully) make better decisions about what $150,000 in debt means and what their prospects are.

Actually, I would go further. Admission to law school should, itself, be a statement from the legal "industry" that the applicant is wanted and needed to provide services as a practicing attorney. People who want to learn about legal philosophy can be offered admissions to shorter, less expensive master's programs. There should be a national movement to shut down excess law schools producing too many lawyers that there is no market for.
posted by deanc at 7:53 AM on December 28, 2011 [3 favorites]


The myth that "you can do anything with a law degree" really needs to go away, since that "anything" will have to be high-paying enough for you to pay off the loans. Some schools will forgive loans if you go into a public interest job, but you best have a spouse or SO with a living wage if you go the public-interest route.

I have a degree from a top 10 law school and I passed the bar on the first go. Neither of these factors helped me get jobs, because law school on its own couldn't turn me into a marketable lawyer. My grades were meh, at best: everyone wanted "A" grades. This was 20 years ago, BTW; I'm sure it's worse now.

The late Derrick Bell was teaching at my law school at the time I was enrolled. He once suggested, only half-joking, that we sue the school for misrepresentation and breach of contract re: learning how to practice law at law school.

My tech writing M.S. has yielded a lot more fruit for me, long run - and it cost far less. I'm just the wrong kind of nerd to be a lawyer, I guess.
posted by Currer Belfry at 8:20 AM on December 28, 2011


deanc: "People who go to dental school have a close to 100% guarantee of becoming a dentist. People who go to med school have a close to 100% guarantee of becoming a doctor.

dixiecupdrinking: "- Learning curves. You don't know how to practice law, really, with a law degree."

I think these two things are related.

deanc: "Admission to law school should, itself, be a statement from the legal "industry" that the applicant is wanted and needed to provide services as a practicing attorney."

Why? There seems to be a circular argument here that lawyers should be paid a lot, because law school is so expensive, and law school is expensive because the job pays so well. Well, why don't we just lower the price of law school? This has the nice advantage of not requiring law firms to "sponsor" your admission, with all the negative selection bias affects that implies.

Besides which, until 2007/2008, employment numbers suggested that the system was functioning just fine. Which central planner are we going to appoint who can predict when economic catastrophe will strike and what the effects will be?
posted by pwnguin at 9:48 AM on December 28, 2011


Besides which, until 2007/2008, employment numbers suggested that the system was functioning just fine.

I don't believe that's true at all. It's just that now everyone is suffering and the complaints about law school are even louder. In the past, I think, the economy was decent enough and tuition was low enough that people could manage to pay off their law school loans finding another job. The situation of there being far more lawyers than the market could bear has been the case for a long time. The only difference is that the economy has made these problems more apparent and that even graduates from top-tier law schools are having trouble finding jobs.
posted by deanc at 10:00 AM on December 28, 2011


Love what you said pwnguin,

"Why? There seems to be a circular argument here that lawyers should be paid a lot, because law school is so expensive, and law school is expensive because the job pays so well. Well, why don't we just lower the price of law school? This has the nice advantage of not requiring law firms to "sponsor" your admission, with all the negative selection bias affects that implies."

It's almost common sense. In a more chicken and the egg philosophy, I wonder which came first: Employers paying higher salaries to lawyers or schools making law require expensive tuition costs. Hmmmm and around and around we go.
posted by amazingstill at 10:10 AM on December 28, 2011


Some professions manage to manage the amount of fresh blood coming in. The profession of law in the US doesn't occur to me to be one of them, based on what I understand about law schools actively encouraging admissions and avoiding certain truths.
posted by ZeusHumms at 11:47 AM on December 28, 2011


These law school kids don't deserve a fancy job, they just deserve the truth so they can (hopefully) make better decisions about what $150,000 in debt means and what their prospects are.

Must. Not. Make. You. Can't. Handle. The. Truth. Joke.
posted by The World Famous at 12:06 PM on December 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


Some professions manage to manage the amount of fresh blood coming in.

I'd really like to know where you people get the idea that any other profession (particularly doctors) sets an annual quota. Or why it quotas on medical professionals would be a good thing, in light of the rapidly rising and rapidly unaffordable cost of health care.
posted by pwnguin at 4:51 PM on December 28, 2011


I'd really like to know where you people get the idea that any other profession (particularly doctors) sets an annual quota.

It's fairly well known, take for example this article:

By restricting the number of approved medical schools and the number of applicants to those schools, the AMA limits the supply of physicians.

I'm not saying it's a good thing, just that the claim is not without backing.
posted by formless at 5:32 PM on December 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


The legal profession limits the number of lawyers quite well. It doesn't limit the number of law school grads, though.
posted by The World Famous at 5:36 PM on December 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


deanc: “People who go to dental school have a close to 100% guarantee of becoming a dentist. People who go to med school have a close to 100% guarantee of becoming a doctor. It is a shame that law schools are organized in such a way that you can pay >$100k to go to law school and not even have a bare shot at becoming a practicing lawyer. I have no idea why people feel the need to kick these law school grads when they're down after they made a huge mistake.”

For what it's worth, as someone whose partner graduated from medical school last year, med school graduates don't have a good chance of becoming a doctor because of the way med schools are organized.

They have a good chance of becoming a doctor because of the way the medical field is organized. The medical field has a very strong and highly structured system of residency by which schools get paid by the government to take on recent graduates as three-year paid trainees. There's a complex process by which graduates are matched to residencies. Again, that has very little to do with medical schools themselves, although medical schools obviously facilitate it as they have some stake in being able to say that their students do well (and in having their students pay back loans).

Basically: med schools do almost nothing to ensure that graduates get jobs. They push their students to fill out the forms and do match interviews; that's pretty much it.

The legal profession, on the other hand, gets no grants to take on paid trainees. There is no vast network of big firms across the country that interview potential hirees every spring and vie to put the more qualified ones in trainee spots in their programs; there really isn't anything in it for them, anyway, at least not in the way it is for hospitals. There are many hospitals around the country who are largely funded by government and private grants predicated on their taking on trainees; but what does a law firm get for taking on a trainee? One more person to split the pie with, and maybe a helpful hand down the road. In this economy, I am not so sure that seems like a good investment to them.

Long story short: the legal profession is not concentrated into centers that are well-funded by a system that demands that they hire students. Nor should it be. So there's really no way whatsoever for law schools to guarantee employment in the way that med schools often can.
posted by koeselitz at 8:54 PM on December 28, 2011 [5 favorites]


correction: "system of residency by which schools hospitals get paid by the government..."
posted by koeselitz at 8:55 PM on December 28, 2011


My main objection to the tenor of the conversation in this thread is the proposition that lawyers are useless parasites on society.

As someone who is not a lawyer or even remotely educated in law, I agree. I wonder if the people making these cracks would feel quite as comfortable making them in almost any other situation where such a broad stereotype and severe solutions were being offered.
posted by rollbiz at 9:51 PM on December 28, 2011


formless: "By restricting the number of approved medical schools and the number of applicants to those schools, the AMA limits the supply of physicians."

Yes, and ABET accreditation is required to become a PE in the state where I reside. There's also the professional exams. None of which adds up to a direct restriction on the supply of qualified practitioners, or is any different than the restrictions lawyers impose on their own profession.

Your citation offers a flawed comparison between law and medical schools -- 50 years vs 100, different counting methods for medical schools, neglects the monopsony present in other nations when presenting salary data, and makes an incredible leap of faith that the decline in applicants in 2008 is proof of a cartel, rather than the obvious exogenous factor.

Of course, the same charts suggest the AMA has been doing a shitty job in general of restricting applications, so I don't buy it yet. If the AMA is functioning as a better cartel than the ABA, I'd want to see some evidence that the AMA is more stringent when the supply of labor is higher. At the very least, I'd like to hear someone tell me what the ABA should copy from the ABET and AMA that they aren't already doing.

koeselitz gets a gold start for pointing out the medical residency program, which is similar in principle to the PE Engineer-In-Training designation. In practice, I don't think the PE license is all that crucial anymore, thanks to the industrial exemptions. If 3M or Intel wants to vet their own engineers and assume liability, I can't think of a reason to stop them.
posted by pwnguin at 10:30 PM on December 28, 2011


There is no vast network of big firms across the country that interview potential hirees every spring and vie to put the more qualified ones in trainee spots in their programs

Actually, this almost exactly describes how BigLaw firms recruit: they come on campus at top schools and interview dozens of second-year students over a few days, invite their favorites back to the office for a longer interview, and then they all make offers to the ones they want to hire for the summer (which is basically just a paid apprenticeship) and later as first-year associates (at which point you're still basically just a paid apprentice, albeit a fully licensed one). The problem is that there are only enough of these jobs for a tiny proportion of all the law students in the country (and many people wouldn't want to do that kind of work anyway). But the parallel with medical residencies is interesting, since lots of people say law school is only worth it if you can get BigLaw jobs—precisely because they provide the kind of automatic training and financial security people tend to associate with med school.
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 9:18 AM on December 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


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