The law school scam as a cognitive bias
July 6, 2012 5:58 PM   Subscribe

Discover Magazine posted a couple of blog entries about the law school scam as a cognitive bias and why law school tuition isn't more dispersed.
posted by reenum (52 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
So I was going to write a whole thing about how this isn't actually terrible smart writing and that the whole thing reads like a B- paper in Behavioral Econ 201 at a second tier university, but I'll let this quote do all the work for me:

Second, people who gain a Ph.D. at least know something of theoretical interest. This applies even to an unemployed history Ph.D.!

This is a weird cottage industry - taking obvious problems and using every available tool incorrectly to get clicks so you can sell more ads for penis creme.
posted by allen.spaulding at 6:08 PM on July 6, 2012


Yeah, that's the line that stuck out as bait so obvious it's wriggling at the end of a fishhook.
posted by griphus at 6:13 PM on July 6, 2012


Isn't Discover Magazine just a collection of individual science bloggers?

The reality is that TJL is selling a law degree, for $41,000 a year (minus cost of living, etc.). Because a TJL law degree is sold, rather than earned (granted, by jumping through the GPA/LSAT hoops), it has low signalling value. If it’s a club anyone who can take out loans can buy their way into, why would you want to join?

Although this has a lot of truth to it. Any mistaken notion I had of achieving the illusion of 'prestige' law schools are obsessed with maintaining was quashed out of me by the start of the second year, when I realized that it was effectively impossible to fail out once admitted. Why would they want to stop cashing your tuition checks?
posted by T.D. Strange at 6:26 PM on July 6, 2012


As I believe I've trotted out before: The law job market is a problem. Heaven knows I know that, coming into 3L. (And I have a pretty excellent-looking resume at this stage.) But so is every other job market. The schools that are basically diploma mills will fall apart the day there's better options for all the psychology and poli sci and philosophy graduates that the undergraduate institutions are churning out. The people in the bottom of my class who had better job options? Have left to take them. For the rest of us, it starts to feel, a lot of days, like you're damned any way you look at it, like we were literally just born into the wrong generation to expect regular employment as a matter of course.
posted by gracedissolved at 6:40 PM on July 6, 2012 [6 favorites]


Any mistaken notion I had of achieving the illusion of 'prestige' law schools are obsessed with maintaining was quashed out of me by the start of the second year, when I realized that it was effectively impossible to fail out once admitted. Why would they want to stop cashing your tuition checks?

They can have their cake and eat it too - there is more than one way to ensure prestige.
1. you can accept absolutely anyone waving a cheque, take the cheque, and fail all but the very best.
2. you can selectively accept only people who are very likely to do well (with or without you), take the cheques, and graduate everyone regardless of what they do.

There is probably also a 3 and 4, etc, but if you cross the streams of 1 and 2, yeah, the prestige isn't going to last long.
posted by -harlequin- at 6:43 PM on July 6, 2012



Second, people who gain a Ph.D. at least know something of theoretical interest. This applies even to an unemployed history Ph.D.!


AAAAAAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

signed,
History ABD
posted by liketitanic at 6:46 PM on July 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


Why isn’t law school tuition more dispersed?

Wrong question, because what students pay actually is highly dispersed. Almost all law schools give discounts off their sticker price -- sometimes 100% discounts -- to applicants they really want to enroll. Many law schools have been responding to the softening applicant pool by increasing their financial aid budgets rather than reducing their official tuition, but the effect is the same: a reduction in the average effective tuition.

If you want to understand what's really going on in the legal education market, don't start with a science blogger grabbing a few headline numbers and thinking he can model the whole situation on the back of an envelope. Go to some authors who are familiar with legal education and can back up their analyses with detailed data. Brian Tamanaha's Failing Law Schools or almost anything by Bill Henderson will give you more insight into the issues.
posted by grimmelm at 6:51 PM on July 6, 2012 [5 favorites]


The schools that are basically diploma mills will fall apart the day there's better options for all the psychology and poli sci and philosophy graduates that the undergraduate institutions are churning out.

Or, more accurately, the day those psychology, poli sci, and philosophy graduates realize that there have been better options all along. Which day, obviously, will never come.
posted by The World Famous at 6:56 PM on July 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


If anyone is looking for an attorney job, my inside source says they're desperate for lawyers in Central/Western Nebraska. This is the only area of the country I have ever heard of that is actually actively seeking lawyers. I assume this is because Nebraska tends to suffer from a lot of brain drain. Personally, I would just rather starve, commit suicide, or bash my head into a brick wall until I acquired a vegetative state. But who knows, maybe there's someone out there who thinks they can handle it?
posted by Jurbano at 6:59 PM on July 6, 2012


Likewise, I know several lawyers and I'm told rural Alaska usually needs prosecutors, defense attorneys, etc. Downside is, of course, living in a town of 300 people that's literally the middle of nowhere where you don't see the sun for good chunks of the year and things have to be flown in.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 7:21 PM on July 6, 2012


If anyone is looking for an attorney job, my inside source says they're desperate for lawyers in Central/Western Nebraska.

Even to the extent there are jobs out there (highly debatable), it's less than a drop in the bucket compared to the tens of thousands of unemployed graduates that the system churns out every year.

The situation is utterly untenable. The result is inevitably going to be dozens of law schools closing up shop and literally tens of billions of dollars in student loans going unpaid, which is to say, ultimately paid by the taxpayer.

There are approximately 45,000 law grads ever year, taking on an average of about $100k in debt each. Optimistically, perhaps half manage to earn something approaching enough money to actually repay their loans, as opposed to going into IBR or simply defaulting, and the numbers are only getting worse.
posted by jedicus at 7:30 PM on July 6, 2012 [4 favorites]


I am kind of surprised to discover that my legal knowledge is theoretically uninteresting. Please don't tell my clients.
posted by Dr. Zira at 7:33 PM on July 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


Come on now. They never ask you to talk about the law because they think it's theoretically interesting.
posted by The World Famous at 7:35 PM on July 6, 2012 [6 favorites]


I was under the impression legal knowledge was kind of interesting last week, what with my mom wanting to know all about the Commerce Clause and shit, but then CERN has to steal the spotlight with stupid sexy theoretically interesting stuff, and goddamn it SCIENCE wins again.
posted by Dr. Zira at 7:43 PM on July 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


I think we need to start a "Don't Go to Law School Day" where every pissed off law graduate writes a letter to the editor of their local paper informing those considering going to law school what a horrible idea it is. I don't know how much of a dent we can make, but it's better than bitching about the situation on MeFi.
posted by Jurbano at 7:43 PM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


The result is inevitably going to be dozens of law schools closing up shop and literally tens of billions of dollars in student loans going unpaid, which is to say, ultimately paid by the taxpayer.

This has been "inevitable" forever. The legal job market used to be better, but not that much better. There were diploma mills and naive students willing to shell out tuition without doing their research long before the economy crashed.
posted by eugenen at 7:44 PM on July 6, 2012


Two things I don't much care for in this here life. The law as it's written, and getting my hand chopped off.

-ask any poor sumbitch done got his hand chopped off staving to death in the 16th century.
posted by vozworth at 7:46 PM on July 6, 2012


This has been "inevitable" forever. The legal job market used to be better, but not that much better.

It's not just the awful job market. It's also tuition and the resulting debt. Back when the mistake of going to law school only cost someone three years of their life and $30k it was merely a bad idea but not ruinous. But tuition has increased at a fantastic pace, even in just the last decade. One concrete example: tuition at UC Hastings increased by 83.5% (adjusted for inflation!) in just 8 years from 2004-2012. Or, for the bigger picture, check out this graph. You can't look at that graph and say that's sustainable or sensible.
posted by jedicus at 7:53 PM on July 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


You can't look at that graph and say that's sustainable or sensible.

Who ever said prospective law students were sensible? I certainly wasn't.
posted by The World Famous at 7:55 PM on July 6, 2012


As a photographer who shot graduation portraits of the Whittier Law School class of 2011 last May, I love love love that Discover magazine is using them as their example of "marginal lawyer material" and "self-deluded suckers." As a group, those were some of the most unpleasant graduates I have had the misfortune of shooting in four years of working graduations.

I let their holier-than-thou attitudes roll off my back, though, because after all, I left that graduation without $140,000 in student loans.
posted by malapropist at 7:59 PM on July 6, 2012 [9 favorites]


Who ever said prospective law students were sensible?

Justice Melvin Schweitzer described prospective law students thus:
By anyone’s definition, reasonable consumers — college graduates — seriously considering law schools are a sophisticated subset of education consumers, capable of sifting through data and weighing alternatives before making a decision regarding their post-college options
posted by jedicus at 8:01 PM on July 6, 2012


I assume he was going for a laugh with that one.
posted by The World Famous at 8:05 PM on July 6, 2012


I let their holier-than-thou attitudes roll off my back, though, because after all, I left that graduation without $140,000 in student loans.

Plus a job, unlike 40% of them.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 8:17 PM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


The World Famous: That's pretty much the premise of the article, is it not?

The big problem with higher ed as a whole is that we've sold it as the next step after high school. We've made higher ed a commodity for the masses, and that's not sustainable.
posted by imdaf at 8:18 PM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


How's the patent/IP law field for those with a background in science and law?
posted by Apocryphon at 9:15 PM on July 6, 2012


You know, the whole attitude here that higher education is being ruined by letting The Peasants have it really shows how degenerate the level of analysis really is, and how much it suffers without looking at class privilege.
posted by mobunited at 9:20 PM on July 6, 2012 [6 favorites]


Personally, I would just rather starve, commit suicide, or bash my head into a brick wall until I acquired a vegetative state. But who knows, maybe there's someone out there who thinks they can handle it?

Does this mean that Nebraska does not have any cute little hip cafes? Or that no-one exists who could bear to live in such a place?
posted by ovvl at 9:30 PM on July 6, 2012


mobunited: It isn't about class privilege, although that is a lens through which you can view it. It's about using class privilege to to pawn a false bill of sale. Don't get me wrong, I think everyone should have a PhD...not because it will have practical impact on earning potential, but because it will enrich your life in ways that market forces can't describe.
posted by imdaf at 9:58 PM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


One concern I have about 'X field is imploding, better not go into it!' is that it's happening to so many fields. So, becoming a lawyer is a bad idea. What else are you going to do? The humanities have exactly the same problem. Scientists and academics are being shunted into adjunct positions that pay on the level of a fast-food manager. A lot of engineering jobs went overseas; what is left, is going to laid-off engineers with desperation and decades of experience. Banking and finance were never easy to break into, and they've only became worse of late. Industry is in terrible shape and has been for decades. The housing bubble hurt a lot of the skilled trades pretty badly. Education is being attacked hard by the right and is likely to experience severe cuts in the near future.

There are some fields that are still kind of functioning... health care is sort of functional and won't ever really go away, but not everyone is suitable for it. IT is kind of shuffling along. However, one is really left with the impression that more fields are collapsing than are growing, and we're starting to build up a lot of people who don't fit in anywhere. It's worrisome...
posted by Mitrovarr at 10:31 PM on July 6, 2012 [17 favorites]


The problem is, if you believe in doom and gloom commentary, higher education as a whole is imploding.
posted by Apocryphon at 10:54 PM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]



The reality is that TJL is selling a law degree, for $41,000 a year (minus cost of living, etc.). Because a TJL law degree is sold, rather than earned (granted, by jumping through the GPA/LSAT hoops), it has low signalling value. If it’s a club anyone who can take out loans can buy their way into, why would you want to join?
Because they want to practice law? The "elitism for elitism's sake" angle works if there are no extrinsic gains to be had, but even if 40% of the graduates of SafetySchool College of Law are the most debt-saddled baristas in town, that means that 60% of their graduating class is working in a field that rewards with both social currency and the kind that pays your rent, and if that amount is high enough, people will jump off a cliff trying to grab that brass ring. It's only "cognitive bias" to choose to leap for the ring if you assume that the sort of person who wants to go to law school looks at his chances and thinks, "nah, I'll probably be at the bottom of my class", then resignedly resumes his dead-end job in the mail room of a law firm. Everybody in this category thinks they're going to be in the top 10%, and it's only after life lands a few punches that they realize they've made a grave mistake. The problem is that, after the punches are landed, we basically shrug and say, "you're an entitled idiot", and then write smug blog articles about how stupid everyone is for getting a law degree. Maybe we should, you know, shrink the size of graduating classes and toughen up the LSATs if there's really, honestly no use for 50% of our law graduates. Maybe people just want to be lawyers and the system is set up to fuck them over and make them think it's all their fault.

A similar phenomenon seems to be at work in the case of undergraduate degrees, which this author alludes to. Sure, everyone knows that an undergraduate degree from your local state college qualifies you for exactly nothing except the lowest paying white-collar job, but it is, for many people, the only way to get a foot in the slowly revolving door to the middle class, so everybody's kid, no matter if he's a directionless milquetoast with no interest in his chosen subject matter, lines up around the block for a bachelor's degree from his local college, basically getting the equivalent of a stamp on his forehead that says "APPROVED FOR BASIC ADMINISTRATIVE WORK". Well, it's still better than not having the stamp, wouldn't you agree? Because the kid probably is a milquetoast, unless he's an entrepreneur or a prodigy or otherwise has his sights on something, which at eighteen is pretty unusual, since we've conditioned high schoolers to be unproductive consumers of pop music and electronics and more or less barred them from the workplace. Yet we're amazed when shoving yet another doe-eyed teenager through the undergrad factory doesn't produce the optimal office go-getter but merely another listless, directionless, albeit well-rounded young adult.
posted by deathpanels at 11:41 PM on July 6, 2012 [9 favorites]


If anyone is looking for an attorney job, my inside source says they're desperate for lawyers in Central/Western Nebraska.

I'm actually pretty confident this is true. This too:

Likewise, I know several lawyers and I'm told rural Alaska usually needs prosecutors, defense attorneys, etc.

Two things:

First, as others have observed, "desperate" here really means "they need a few dozen attorneys." One year of the graduating class of a single law school would probably satisfy the demand for attorneys in western Nebraska for the better part of a decade.

But second, and the reason they're desperate in spite of the demand being low in absolute terms, isn't just because those places aren't at the top of most grads' list of Places They Want to Life. It's because the pay sucks. Even in wealthy states, assistant DA and PD jobs frequently pay in the low $40k range. In a place like Nebraska or Alaska, it could be in the low $30k range or even less.

At that salary point, it's almost not worth taking the job. I graduated from law school in 2009, and I have a slightly less than average debt load, but I still pay $1,000 a month. That's $12,000 a year. Considering this is post tax, it's more like $14,000-16,000 in gross income. I make just enough for this to be doable. But at $30k a year? Your net earnings after taxes and debt service would be like $12k. That's food stamp territory. Only you wouldn't actually qualify because your gross earnings would be too high. Given those prospects, and the fact that if one is unemployed one can generally defer loan payments indefinitely, it makes sense to just hold out for a better job in a more desirable location.

So if rural areas are desperate for lawyers, it's because they can't afford any. This may serve as valuable commentary on the degree to which law school is overpriced, but that doesn't actually change the numbers.
posted by valkyryn at 4:28 AM on July 7, 2012 [9 favorites]


even if 40% of the graduates of SafetySchool College of Law are the most debt-saddled baristas in town, that means that 60% of their graduating class is working in a field that rewards with both social currency and the kind that pays your rent,

Except the numbers don't support that. There is a very small number of attorneys who make astronomical amounts of money and a very large number of attorneys who make a typical middle class salary. $40-80k. Slightly better than average. And, to be honest, the sort of salary one can make in a middle management job without a degree that costs $150k. Really more like $200k when you figure that most have to borrow their living expenses for three years too.

And that small number of lawyers that make a lot of money? The vast majority of them to go about T14 schools and almost all of them go to T50 ones. Especially these days. A generation ago, there were fewer law schools and a much smaller distribution of income. The big firms made a lot of money, but it was in the six-figure range. Now, partners at the big firms are pissed if they bring home less than $2 million a year. But incomes at the bottom haven't changed at all, while the cost of law school has gone up across the board, and the vast majority of graduating law students have about a 1% chance of ever landing a job that might eventually pay more than $100k a year, if they're lucky. They're mostly going to never find legal employment at all or wind up doing retail law.
posted by valkyryn at 4:46 AM on July 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


So, becoming a lawyer is a bad idea. What else are you going to do? The humanities have exactly the same problem. Scientists and academics are being shunted into adjunct positions that pay on the level of a fast-food manager. A lot of engineering jobs went overseas; what is left, is going to laid-off engineers with desperation and decades of experience. Banking and finance were never easy to break into, and they've only became worse of late.

Is it just that people who write for popular media have a lot of friends who went to law school? Or maybe law firms aren't as media-savvy as, say, tech companies who have successfully pushed the "skills shortage" story? Because even though there's been unrelenting coverage of law school grads' dismal prospects for the last few years, it still seems easier to break into law than most of these other fields.
posted by Ralston McTodd at 4:51 AM on July 7, 2012


All this talk about "the system" as if we live in a planned economy! Where is the invisible hand to fix it?
posted by Obscure Reference at 5:27 AM on July 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


Tuition has been a function of government loan guarantees: enough people were willing to pay whatever they could borrow. Link the loan guarantees at a certain school, or a for a certain LSAT/GPA combination, to an honest estimate of earnings capacity and tuition would fall dramatically. However, the scamblog movement may actually be doing the work here anyway by teaching the marginal buyer NOT to be willing to max out borrowing.

What I find crazy about all this was that in 1993 and 1994, when my contemporaries and I were making their law school decisions, in a vastly better legal job market,with far lower tuition, it was already a universal wisdom that outside the T14 and a first-tier public offering cheap in-state tuition, law school was a dangerous gamble.
posted by MattD at 6:08 AM on July 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Comments are perceptive but fail to note that the ABA (union and/or guild) accredits law schools and tells universities what salary levels must be maintained etc and that in turn creates need to set tuition high to pay costs of law faculty.
posted by Postroad at 6:13 AM on July 7, 2012


Ralston McTodd:
I left the law last year to walk across the United States with my dog. I wrote a book about it, and while doing that, I interviewed a bunch of legal professionals and law students about their experiences. Although my research and writing don't deal with economic data, there are a few truths that are pretty indisputable.

It is not easier to break into law than any other field. If you breeze through law school on a tuition waiver, maybe. If your parents or someone pay, maybe. But, in general, law school is a losing game for most who play because the costs are very high and the returns are (usually) very low. Even if you fall into that class that hasn't invested much, you (usually) cannot simply hang a shingle when you get out of law school, because law grads generally have no practical training. That type of learning happens on the job--but when there are no jobs....

I just read that the class of 2011, now over a year out of school, has something around a 55% employment rate in the industry. That's the nationwide class of 2011.

And, even in the halcyon days, there were not very many jobs that would actually support a high debt load. The jobs that get the attention are the ones that start at 160K (or whatever it is they start at now) are few and far between. And the great majority of jobs start around 40K. That's a living, but it's not much of a living if you have 12 or 1500 in monthly student loan payments.

Anyway...I've talked to a lot of people who are thinking about going to law school. I almost always advise strongly against it, because the economics simply aren't there. But no one will listen. You can always see them thinking "Well, that won't happen to ME. I'm different because I'm MEANT to go to law school" or some such. I probably thought the same way.

Kind of got off topic there, but the point is this: Law school graduates, as a class, have far too much debt and dismal job prospects. And, fair warning, I doubt very much that all of these folks will be able to pay off their student loans. We'll probably see lots of defaults.
posted by 3200 at 6:34 AM on July 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Valkyryn:
You are right, I think. I might even go a step further. I doubt very strongly that there are "too many lawyers". It's quite possible that there are, in fact, too few lawyers, even with the apparent glut we have now. The problem is in the economics of it all--most lawyers can't afford to practice in the places where legal representation is most needed.
posted by 3200 at 7:28 AM on July 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


How's the patent/IP law field for those with a background in science and law?

No better. There's less competition (only about 7% of attorneys have a science or engineering background), but there are also fewer jobs. And patent work, just like any other kind of commercial law, has been hit by the downturn as companies spend less on patents and patent litigation. There's also an increasing amount of off-shoring of basic patent work (e.g. prior art searches and drafting).

Basically it's the same story all around: layoffs, stagnant or decreasing starting pay, fewer or no entry-level positions.

Oh, and if your background is in bio, then I hope you have a Ph.D.

There is one bright spot. If you have an in-demand background (e.g. computer science and electrical engineering), then you can almost certainly get a job as a patent examiner. The pay is not bad, and in a year or two you might not even have to live in Alexandria. You can bide your time working as an examiner while waiting for an opportunity at a firm. Of course, you'll be contributing to the problem of high examiner turnover, but that's between you and your conscience I guess.
posted by jedicus at 7:34 AM on July 7, 2012


The problem is, if you believe in doom and gloom commentary, higher education as a whole is imploding.
"Exploding, and going to implode", rather. The thesis I've seen is that the growth in tuition prices is a bubble which is rapidly outpacing the growth in college value, which creates pressures that are going to force upcoming changes in higher education (e.g. online learning and/or separation of teaching from credentialing), which means that although traditional higher education is still worth it now, the last generation of students to go through the old system are going to come out having been saddled with six figures in debt for nearly the same results that a self-motivated peer could have achieved for a fraction of the cost.

But even if that's broadly true, law school seems to be a unique case, because law school might not be worth it right now. If you think you're going to be a hotshot engineer yet you're really just going to be a mediocre engineer, you're still ending up in a decent place. But if you think you're going to be a hotshot lawyer yet you're really just going to be a mediocre lawyer, you may have a problem, because the salary distribution appears to be bimodal! In other words, aspiring to join the venerable practice of law is now the geek equivalent of aspiring to be an actor or a baseball player: you see the people at the top making big bucks, but you don't see the greater number of people who tried to get to the top and washed out.
posted by roystgnr at 7:41 AM on July 7, 2012 [1 favorite]



Except the numbers don't support that. There is a very small number of attorneys who make astronomical amounts of money and a very large number of attorneys who make a typical middle class salary. $40-80k. Slightly better than average. And, to be honest, the sort of salary one can make in a middle management job without a degree that costs $150k. Really more like $200k when you figure that most have to borrow their living expenses for three years too.
My point is that you can play with the numbers all day and come up with models that make it seem like your average law graduate is doing the educational investment equivalent of riding a barrel over Niagara Falls. Except that overlooks qualitatively what's happening, because people don't "invest" in education, they pursue it – until they fail, drop out, or are rejected in admissions. Maybe people want to be lawyers instead of middle managers because of the status (how many celebrity middle-managers can you name?) and the system is set up to enable them to think they can be. The law school "market" (if we insist on using financial terms) is producing a surplus. 50% of its production will rot on the shelves. But these are people, not agricultural products, and it's the taxpayer that will end up paying for them eventually.
posted by deathpanels at 9:12 AM on July 7, 2012


For a comprehensive overview of the source and scope of the problem, see Paul Campos, The Crisis of the American Law School [pdf].
posted by jedicus at 9:33 AM on July 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Serious question: are there no cheap law schools? It seems like if you really want to just straight up practice law to the point where you'd be willing to live in rural AK to do so, the course of action would be to go to school somewhere where the tuition is low and you can graduate with no or minimal debt. Then go to where they need lawyers and take the low salary, because your expenses will also be low and you won't have crushing debts to pay.

There is probably a reason why this doesn't work.
posted by KathrynT at 11:53 AM on July 7, 2012


Serious question: are there no cheap law schools?

Answering my own question, thank you Google: Not really. Even the cheapest school in the country, UDC-DCSL, is running close to $45K for three years of law school for out-of-staters. I know that's a drop in the bucket compared to what many folks have run up, but still, $45K is a lot of money.
posted by KathrynT at 12:05 PM on July 7, 2012


KathrynT:
There is assistance available in some instances, but not always. The assistance available tends to be bimodal, as well--you either pay no tuition, or you pay full tuition. The tuition help available for law students generally goes to folks from underprivileged backgrounds--often minorities, but not always, and don't read too much into that, as I am generally in favor of affirmative action programs of all types--and are usually tied to a minimum GPA maintenance and/or some sort of pseudo-employment with the school. The types and levels of assistance vary, though, especially between private and public schools.

You have to remember, also, that the job market (such as it is) puts a lot of emphasis on the "quality" of the law school. It is really, very true that it is easier to get a job from an Ivy or a T14 than from a lower ranked school. Some of that bias is justified, some is not. Generally, it is impossible to get a job with a degree from a lower ranked school outside of a small geographical area where that school places (if anywhere). Of course, there are going to be people who chime in to say "I went to a lower ranked school and got a job on the other side of the country!" but I'm talking in general terms, here.

I went to a good school and did well, as did most of my friends in the legal community. Those who I speak with who have similar pedigrees (usually somewhat better than my pedigree) and who are currently looking to lateral or get a new position tell me that the market is awful, even for them. Most of the folks I'm talking about are in corporate type work--financial transactions, corporate reorganization, or straight up corporate work. I hear rumors, though, that banking groups are starting to pop again, which is a leading indicator of financial recovery (at least under the old ways of looking at the economy--and, now that I think back, I've also heard it referred to as a lagging indicator, so who knows) but hiring hasn't really picked up yet.

Another thing that came out of the 2008 collapse (which hit the legal market particularly hard) seems to be a huge increase in the proportion of work done by contract attorneys. Contract attorney jobs are...not...as...highly...sought...after. But there seems to have been a marked increase in the contract market. (NOTE: For those who don't know, these are attorneys who work on contract rather than as an associate of a given firm--they get called in to do doc review, mostly.)

That's a pretty long answer to your question, especially given that you'd already asked and answered the question yourself. But lawyers like to talk and to type. My apologies.
posted by 3200 at 12:31 PM on July 7, 2012


The American education system, and probably most nation's education systems aside from Germany, really needs to give more support towards co-ops. This especially goes for law school.
posted by Apocryphon at 12:56 PM on July 7, 2012


Apocryphyon:
Co-ops? In education? I am intrigued. I will do some research on that, but if you have any good links, by all means share them!
posted by 3200 at 1:25 PM on July 7, 2012


Serious question: are there no cheap law schools?

I was all ready to chime in with the schools that were good deals when I went to law school, but then I looked up tuitions and noticed that my own law school - which was inexpensive by today's standards - has nearly doubled its tuition since I was there.

I suppose one could always plan ahead and convert to Mormonism early in undergrad school in order to get BYU Law School's $10k a year tuition, or just pay the $20k a year non-Mormon rate. But some might reasonably argue that law school without alcohol is too high a price to pay even for cheap tuition at a very good law school.
posted by The World Famous at 1:39 PM on July 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


Serious question: are there no cheap law schools?

Because tuition is so heavily discounted for students with credentials above the school's median (and sometimes for all students--Illinois gave a partial "scholarship" to every single law student recently), a better way to get a handle on the actual cost is to look at the average debt that students are graduating with. So, for example, the average Thomas Jefferson student graduated with $153,006 in law school debt (not including undergrad debt) in 2011, with 94% of students borrowing. At the other end of the scale, students at Georgia State borrowed an average of $19,971. The general rule of thumb is that students should not borrow more for law school than the average first-year earnings of their school's graduates.
posted by Emera Gratia at 2:56 PM on July 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


The general rule of thumb is that students should not borrow more for law school than the average first-year earnings of their school's graduates.

This is kind of a meaningless rule, because law schools are notoriously non-transparent--to the point of alleged dishonesty in some cases--about their graduates' actual first-year earnings. This isn't entirely the schools fault, as a grad who gets a good paying job is more likely to report his salary than one who doesn't, but there's still a lot of funny business. For example, if a law school reports its average first-year salary as $90k but 40% of its graduates are unemployed, it's obvious they're reporting only the first-years with jobs. Etc.

So even if we were to use that as a metric, the fact that law schools almost uniformly overstate those numbers makes it a lot less useful than it might be.
posted by valkyryn at 5:07 PM on July 8, 2012


Re: co-ops, Northeastern's program seems really interesting to me. It's a second tier school but its grads come out with a decent amount of work experience already - would have to look more into their post-graduation employment numbers to see how well it's actually working.
posted by naoko at 10:58 AM on July 13, 2012


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