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For pity's sake, don't go to law school.
June 11, 2010 8:18 AM   Subscribe

Despite the most prestigious law firms in the country laying off almost 6,000 attorneys and 9,000 staff since the beginning of 2008, century-old law firms dissolving almost overnight, and law school tuition rising everywhere, law school applications are at an all time high. Even the number of law schools is rising.

But with the century-old Cravath system being "misapplied" by big firms over the last decade, historical income distributions have been disrupted.

For good or ill, things may be coming to a head.

The "bi-modal" distribution of income among new law school graduates has only gotten worse in recent years (2006, 2007, 2008), as has the unequal distribution of high-paying jobs. But as discussed above, the cost of legal education is rising faster on the low end than the high end.

The result? A lost generation of law school graduates. Graduates of the 2008-2011 if not 2012 classes face drastically worse employment prospects than their predecessors. And it's not just a lack of hiring either: attrition rates in the past five years have been unusually high.

The Internet result? A veritable bonanza of bitter blogs.
posted by valkyryn (188 comments total) 81 users marked this as a favorite

 
This is my life right now. Studying for the bar while having no job prospects is kind of deadening.
posted by Navelgazer at 8:26 AM on June 11, 2010 [7 favorites]


The career development office of my alma mater recently sent out a list of hundreds of graduating students to alumni with a cover letter explaining there simply did not appear to be jobs for these students and asking alumni to please interview them and see if they could find a place for them. It is scary out there.
posted by ND¢ at 8:29 AM on June 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


What accounts for the spikiness of the second peak in the 2007 and 2008 distributions relative to 2006? Did corporate/prestigious firms go all-out in head-hunting the top graduates after 2006, or what?
posted by a small part of the world at 8:30 AM on June 11, 2010


On the bright side, the quality of public defenders and nonprofit attorneys may rise as a result of increased competition.
posted by The White Hat at 8:32 AM on June 11, 2010 [17 favorites]


NPR did a story on this. I can't find a link though.

What struck me in the story is that if a job isn't to be had right away there's a huge disadvantage. A two year old degree puts the new lawyer in competition with freshly minted ones, and they lose every time.
posted by cjorgensen at 8:36 AM on June 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Did corporate/prestigious firms go all-out in head-hunting the top graduates after 2006, or what?

Basically. Not that they could afford it, but the legal market, like most of the rest of the economy, was convinced that it'd keep growing forever. This was the era when summer associates were getting paid $30-35k for ten weeks of goofing around. When firms arranged special, pre-release sneak-previews of The Dark Knight just because they could.

I'm not saying that it made any sense, just that it happened. Either way, it's now screwing a lot of people over who were in no way responsible for these excesses.
posted by valkyryn at 8:36 AM on June 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


The White Hat, I wish that was the case, but don't you think it's more likely that the 3Ls who wanted to be public defenders, environmental lawyers, etc., will now concentrate more on pursuing corporate jobs because they're worried that in this economy they don't stand a chance of paying of their loans otherwise?

It's a travesty that public defenders are compensated so poorly (monetarily and otherwise) as it is, but that's another conversation entirely.
posted by a small part of the world at 8:38 AM on June 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


High paid faculty are simply feeding at the public trough. Student loans are nondischargeable and in the case of public loans are federally guaranteed. This is a massive wealth transfer from the public into "faculty bank accounts".

Law school has been a farce for a long time. For three years and the cost of a nice house, it provides next to 0 value-added. As the partner notes in the ATL article above, law school graduates are "worthless". This makes perfect sense since all they do is sit in classrooms for three years munging over case law. They get no experience with the actual practice of law in a way that would provide value for future clients/employers.

The problem is the public perception has not caught up with the reality. It is still the general wisdom that taking on egregious debts to get arbitrary degrees is a good idea. The federal government still encourages this practice.

What needs to happen immediately is allowing education debt to be dischargeable in bankruptcy. The whole system needs to be torn down and rebuilt in a completely different, and honest, form.
posted by norabarnacl3 at 8:38 AM on June 11, 2010 [22 favorites]


One thing that's worth remembering in this whole mess is that this *isn't* just a matter of "boo hoo, kids in their mid-twenties can't score six-figure salaries straight out of school any more." Like a lot of my friends, I went to law school to do public-interest law - I didn't go in expecting to make six figures before I'm well into my thirties or forties, and it wouldn't surprise me if I never do (after adjusting for inflation).

The problem, though, is that the problems at big firms have massive fallout in the public-interest nonprofit sector. A common way for folks to get started at legal nonprofits has traditionally been for them to take a one-or-two-year paid fellowship - the new lawyer gets experience, the nonprofit gets a cheap staffer and a trial period to see if they're a good fit.

That doesn't happen any more. Big firms are reluctant to discard legal talent, even when they can't afford to pay it, so they're deferring new associates - putting them on half-salary and sending them to work for a nonprofit for free. This means that those of us who never wanted to do BigLaw, who never applied to BigLaw firms and never summered there, get shut out of the traditional entry-level public-interest process.

I tend to think this is bad for the nonprofits, insofar as they're getting free labor, but not the sort of *dedicated* labor they used to get. Whether or not that's so, it's certainly bad for the new public-interest practitioners.
posted by Mr. Excellent at 8:39 AM on June 11, 2010 [12 favorites]


I used to ride bikes with a guy who was a partner at Wolf, Block, Schorr and Solis-Cohen. Huge real estate law firm here in Philly. Gone like a summer breeze. On the bright side, my Government procurement lawyers are getting younger and sharper.
posted by fixedgear at 8:39 AM on June 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


There's a pretty sad reason for this glut: there's the constantly-circulating idea that law school is the French Foreign Legion for the intelligent and aimless; they accept any scoundrel and turn them out a gentleman.

I'm currently an English Lit. major finishing off my undergrad. Many of my classmates -- those not going into education or academe -- seem to have the exact same resigned shrug and "law school, I guess" answer re: post-graduation plans. It kind of scares me that law school has become a fall-back for humanities majors who have run out of ideas, especially in this economy.

You know the old canard about the Jewish mother demanding her child become a Doctor or Lawyer? Well, figure you have to be on the pre-med track the whole while in undergrad to be a Doctor, but you can pretty much enter law school from any humanities track. Especially when many of these individuals (the ones resigned to law school, not aiming for it,) aren't going to (or even aiming for) top-tier schools. And the lower-tier schools are more than happy to charge the traditionally exorbitant Law School Education tuition.
posted by griphus at 8:40 AM on June 11, 2010 [14 favorites]


Anytime you have a surfeit of something people don't really need or want, this is going to happen. And despite the rush to law schools, I can't think of anything that people are tired of more than the endless barrage of attorney-driven ads, and --frankly-- culture.
posted by umberto at 8:45 AM on June 11, 2010 [5 favorites]


I was at an IP law conference at George Washington University a few weeks ago. One of the panels included general counsels from Caterpillar, Microsoft, Motorola, Eli Lilly, and SAP. All but Lilly engage in significant off-shoring. Microsoft estimates it saves $8 million per year through off-shoring. That's over 6% of its entire annual patent budget.

Of course, patent prosecution is somewhat unusual in that it's non-adversarial and fairly predictable, but I think the writing is definitely on the wall.

Other companies are taking a different cost-saving tack. Intel, for example, is starting to move more and more patent prosecution entirely in-house. Intel also requires that outside firms follow a strict flat fee schedule rather than using billable hours. Setting a fee schedule is also becoming common with other large firms. I can't remember which of the firms at the conference have gone to that model, but at least one had.
posted by jedicus at 8:45 AM on June 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


I find it a bit difficult to feel sympathy for law school graduates incurring huge debts to enter a crowded employment market that, even a decade ago, had/has a reputation for viciously culling the fat herd of graduates with backbreaking work weeks in an office full of double-Y chromosome colleagues looking to slit your throat.

Of all the people smart enough to look at their tuition as a career investment, law school students should be aware of the situation. And a cursory reading of law school forums shows that they're very aware that the field on which they're placing their hopes is a brutal and difficult one to survive in long enough to pay back massive student loans.
posted by fatbird at 8:46 AM on June 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


Maybe this will finally remove law school as default for English grads thinking “What else can I do?” and then sinking into a long, 1st year law depression.

There are easier ways to make a bunch of money. If this results in less people pursuing the field who won’t actually love the work, so much the better for everyone involved (including the clients).

Shitty for those currently in, though, to be sure.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 8:47 AM on June 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


And the lower-tier schools are more than happy to charge the traditionally exorbitant Law School Education tuition.

This is the bigger problem. I have a neighbor who recently graduated from UMKC-Law with six figure debt. This isn't a bad law school (Truman went there!) but definitely no tier-1 (on second look, actually it is top-100 but just barely). Tuition for 3 years? $81k @ $27k per year. Factor in room and board and you're easily over six figures for an okay education.

Of course entry level associates working in the area can expect $60-70k (or so I'm told), if they're lucky enough to get a job. I don't see how someone with undergraduate debt could even consider law school at those prices, it just doesn't make sense.

So not surprisingly the situation is much more depressing outside the Top 20.

On one hand I think the idea that getting a law or some sort of post-secondary degree as a means to lubricate social mobility is nothing but a good thing, but if we're going to do that we definitely need a couple more paths. I would not be surprised to see law degrees turn into the next MBA. Unless you're getting it from a top school it is pretty much worthless.
posted by geoff. at 8:51 AM on June 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Of course, patent prosecution is somewhat unusual in that it's non-adversarial and fairly predictable, but I think the writing is definitely on the wall.

I find this interesting. For all the talk of the "knowledge economy" (I know, I know, it's a dead buzzword, but I don't know what the new one that refers to the same phenomenon is), lawyering has never occupied the same space in the public consciousness as, say, programming or web design -- something which was once exotic but now routine, and Lots Of People Have Jobs In It in a way that used to be true of, say, heavy manufacturing. Being a lawyer is special in a way that being a plumber is not, even though any complex postindustrial society needs a lot of both. We vaulted Law into the same empyrean heights as Medicine a long time ago, but might it be better for everyone -- students, lawyers, clients -- if legal advocacy was more blue collar than white collar?
posted by a small part of the world at 8:51 AM on June 11, 2010


Of course, fundamentally I've long wondered why legal services have gotten so expensive over the years. It seems like the massive glut of law students and lawyers should be driving supply sky-high and thus killing prices. Furthermore, law firms have reaped the benefits online databases and productivity software. Gone are the days of trips to the law library, the county records office, and the post office. If anything, costs should be plummeting.

Instead, costs have gone up dramatically. Partners are major law firms bill $800 / hour (I know from being on the client end). Those attorneys may do great work, but I sincerely question the value, especially given the low input costs.
posted by jedicus at 8:55 AM on June 11, 2010 [5 favorites]


On the bright side, the quality of public defenders and nonprofit attorneys may rise as a result of increased competition

This is incorrect, in my experience, for nonprofit jobs. Competition for nonprofit jobs has always been fierce. Most of the nonprofit attorneys I know are well-known, highly respected legal stars. Disappointed BigLaw lawyers are not well-situated to compete for nonprofit jobs -- they don't have the resume, experience, passion, or interest to compete. There's no connect.

Mr. Excellent -- in my world, nonprofits don't simply accept the "free" associates. Most of the proffered associates we have seen have no relevant skills or interests and we have declined. It takes huge amounts of time and commitment to supervise and train a new lawyer, and we don't want to give that time to someone who is biding their time to jump to a for-profit job. The only exceptions are the disappointed public interest lawyers who ended up in Big or Medium Law just to have a job -- those folks are being snapped up by nonprofits.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 8:55 AM on June 11, 2010 [7 favorites]


I would not be surprised to see law degrees turn into the next MBA. Unless you're getting it from a top school it is pretty much worthless.

In a similar sense, I can only assume that the population of low-tier law schools and business schools is roughly equal: the deluded and the connected. The former group have bought the company line/drank the kool-aid about the value of education regardless of its source and education debt being "good debt" and all that stuff and are about to face a harsh world for which they aren't prepared. The latter, on the other hand, know they'll find work and are getting the degree just to knock off the "JD" check box before their uncle pipes them through into a do-nothing job at Bigass Law Firm.
posted by griphus at 8:56 AM on June 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


The title says it all, but if you're considering law school, don't.

I could pontificate about this all day, but the only people who should go to law school are those who can get substantial funding at a top-tier school. Otherwise, you're just throwing away your money (and possibly your future).
posted by Admiral Haddock at 8:56 AM on June 11, 2010 [7 favorites]


The economics of American law education are certainly a curious subject. There certainly are few other professions in the US quite as regulated as the bar, and even fewer vested interests quite as powerful.
As a European patent attorney (not a lawyer!), I toyed for a while with the idea of complementing my credentials with a US law degree. I was surprised to discover that there aren't almost any distance learning JD programs because the ABA and all state bars bar California refuse to recognise them. And yet, amongst all studies, law seems one of the most appropriate for distance learning (certainly more than engineering or chemistry). My own mother graduated in Law from Spain's National Distance-Learning University some twenty-five years ago. The ABA's refusal to recognise distance-learning degrees (and the top law schools' own reluctance to offer them or lobby for their recognition) is so blatantly self-serving as to be ridiculous.
posted by Skeptic at 8:57 AM on June 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


Also -- law school debt still makes sense for nonprofit types who get into a good school due to two new programs -- income based repayment and public service loan forgiveness.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 8:59 AM on June 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


Yeah I have a friend who just passed his bar exam is and is waiting on the background check. He currently has no job at all, after working for a while grading essays. Him and his girlfriend are totally broke and skipping bills to make ends meet. Totally nuts.
posted by delmoi at 9:00 AM on June 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Man... This reminds me of Tucker Max for some reason. Time to go back and read some of his law school stories. :)
posted by antifuse at 9:01 AM on June 11, 2010


Gone are the days of trips to the law library, the county records office, and the post office. If anything, costs should be plummeting.

Yeah, those electronic sources -- think they're free? Granted I was in law school at the turning point for this kind of thing, but we were told at the time: "We're going to teach you how to use Quicklaw, but don't expect that you'll be able to use it. Most small firms won't be able to afford it." (ie: their clients won't be able to) Unless you're at a gov or uni office with flat rates, that is, in which case it may be the first tool you reach for.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 9:02 AM on June 11, 2010


(and, well, on Bay Street it was the first tool we reached for, because they could afford it)
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 9:03 AM on June 11, 2010


Being a lawyer is special in a way that being a plumber is not, even though any complex postindustrial society needs a lot of both.
That's probably because of the highly regulated nature of lawyering. With all kinds of license restrictions designed to keep the population restricted. It's the same thing with medical doctors, with the AMA keeping the number of med students low.
posted by delmoi at 9:03 AM on June 11, 2010


The attrition rates link is outdated. The dynamics of the BigLaw experience from March 2008 are worlds apart from circumstances now. I can tell you that at my firm and from the experiences of my fellow 2005 law school grads, that attrition was indeed rampant up to roughly that point. After my first year, over 50% of my starting law firm class had left. This was through a combination of hiring bright, dynamic, vigorous graduates and giving them lifeless, mind-numbing work as the attrition article points out.

But now, attrition rates since mid 2008 have become non-existent, at least at my firm and at those firms of my friends. Naturally, this is largely because of the layoffs, and the fact that everyone that still has a job is grateful for the chance to review documents for 12 hours a day.

Only now are people starting once again to leave the firm. I remember in late 2007, I would get at least 5-10 "farewell" emails a week from people as they joined clients, boutiques, or other in-house corporate gigs. From late 2008 through early 2010, total silence. This spring, maybe a farewell email once every week. To me, its a sign that the economy (for law firms at least) is improving.
posted by shen1138 at 9:03 AM on June 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


Well, figure you have to be on the pre-med track the whole while in undergrad to be a Doctor, but you can pretty much enter law school from any humanities track.

I wonder if there should be some weed-out prelaw classes then, so students don't end up making a mistake. Law schools accept students whether or not they have work experience in a legal setting or any kind at all. Some of my friends went straight to law school. I remember thinking they seem so grown up, seem to have it so together, etc. But when they actually started practicing at white shoe firms, they developed new aspects to their personality. They seemed a little out of touch with their friends who weren't lawyers and they seemed exhausted and unable to disconnect with work. I get it, of course. It's a scary business to be in. It seemed amazing in college, the idea of being a smart lawyer, knowing everything, making tons of money, being tough and assertive and able to inspire a little fear and admiration for everything you knew. And the idea of buying a cute brownstone or eventually affording to be on a vacation where you could stay at the Four Seasons....

In my own field, I've been disillusioned, but I am generally able to go home and forget about it, though I make about 1/4 of what my lawyer friends do. Which is looked down upon in today's culture. After all, we're all supposed to be madly in love with our work and can't help but treat it like our beloved baby and identity and mission. Getting paid to do it is the cherry on top.

That link to the bi-modal distribution is very interesting.
posted by anniecat at 9:06 AM on June 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


You'd think that would be true, White Hat, that this is a boon to public interest lawyering but it's not. For one thing, state budget crises have led to hiring freezes at SA/PD offices; for another, many many folks who went to law school find criminal work unendurably distasteful. I loved it, but it was draining and some days, everyone you encountered--with the possible exception of your coworkers--were the most base human beings you had ever seen. People who went to law school with the intention of doing public interest work wash out at a higher rate than they expected; people who didn't rarely last.

There's also the culture shock of nonprofit / public interest work. You share desks; your computers are from the 90's. For instance, State's Attorneys in Cook County are assigned email addresses, but most of them have no access to an email system. You end up buying your own paper clips and pens because there simply isn't a huge store of office supplies. Sometimes, you're expected to raise the money to pay your own salary. Most people who went to law school and paid 80k for an education that is supposed to yield a prestigious job with a secretary and catered lunches simply cannot adjust to the nonprofit culture.

Plus, there's just the lack of money in the profession. Private nonprofits are losing all our big firm donors; we're losing our individual lawyer contributions. Associates don't buy tickets to the events; they don't attend them cause the networking aspect no longer pans out. The tanking Big Firm System is terrible for the nonprofits. Nonprofits in the summer normally get several PILI fellows, but the firms aren't funding PILI, so there are no fellows, and from what I understand, the furloughed new associates aren't filling the gap. There may be more people desperate enough to apply for public interest / nonprofit jobs they wouldn't have considered before, but if no firms are funding the nonprofits, the new graduates aren't getting hired there, either.

Plus, as ClaudiaCenter points out, nonprofits don't have the resources to bring in people with no skills or demonstrated interest in their projects. We're already stretched too thin. Nonprofit / public interest organization don't just take anyone who offers their time because they can't operate that way any more than a Fortune 500 company can.

I'm not so sure making education loans dischargeable in bankruptcy is a panacea, either. Income-based repayment has saved my ass, however. I'd like to see the forgiveness period for working at a qualifying nonprofit shortened, too. That would help. But, as I used to argue back in the 90's when I say in staff meetings at a Big Law School: the schools need to accept fewer students and their affiliated universities need to stop expecting the law schools to fund the rest of their programs.
posted by crush-onastick at 9:07 AM on June 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


::puts hands over ears::

/law school class of 2012
posted by lunit at 9:09 AM on June 11, 2010 [4 favorites]


In terms of reform of law school education itself, I have two nuggets to offer. The first is from a professor of some years (who shall forever remain nameless), who told me that if law schools actually cared about educating students they would bring the student:teacher ratio down to about 1:10 or even less. Basically, he advocated a return to an apprenticeship style of legal education. Professors would be working attorneys (he himself did a lot of work outside the school) and would work closely with students to ensure that they were actually functioning attorneys upon graduation.

Of course, he also said it would never happen because law schools were in it for the money. Following his plan would ultimately mean lower salaries for professors.

Another professor (also of many years experience and also nameless), said that the last year of legal education--and perhaps even the last two years--was pointless. He said that with a few tweaks you could teach law students everything they really needed to know in one year. His view was that students rarely learned anything practical in the second or third years because modern law schools take a very theoretical approach to teaching. The much-vaunted 'learning to think like a lawyer' can easily be accomplished in a single year along with the practical research and writing courses.

He also felt that law school clinics were a terrible joke at the students' (literal) expense. Why on Earth pay thousands of dollars to work for free at law school when you could work for free after graduating for nothing? To his mind, the fact that more and more law schools are encouraging students to do clinical work was proof that the final years of law school were not necessary.

Again, he didn't think his reform ideas would ever take hold because law schools want the money. Going to a one or two year program of study would mean firing hundreds of professors and shrinking school budgets dramatically.
posted by jedicus at 9:10 AM on June 11, 2010 [5 favorites]


My former roommate was a law student at a Tier 2 school here in Boston. Took out a bunch of loans to pay for school, and it's certainly not cheap to live in the city. Her family helped her out some, but she certainly has a bunch of debt hanging over her head.

Graduated last year, and as far as I know still doesn't have a job lined up. On the plus side, her new roommate's dog gets plenty of attention.
posted by backseatpilot at 9:10 AM on June 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


delmoi, I agree there's a guild-like quality to the hedge of tests and rituals designed to control who gets to be a lawyer and who doesn't, but I'm not sure that accounts for the social prestige of the profession. It's sort of a chicken-egg problem -- lawyering didn't get special just because it was exclusive.

Actually, having just typed that, I think I may be wrong.
posted by a small part of the world at 9:10 AM on June 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Also -- law school debt still makes sense for nonprofit types who get into a good school due to two new programs -- income based repayment and public service loan forgiveness.

Only kind of. I went to a top-25 law school with an Loan Repayment Assistance Program (LRAP). Thing is, it's income-sensitive, as might be expected. So it's pro-rated from $35k-55k of income. If you make $35k a year at a public interest job, they'll pay your whole student loan bill, $55k, they'll pay nothing, $45k 50%, etc.

Sounds great, right?

Not so fast. They only pay this for three to five years. Which is less than half of your principal balance. Meaning yeah, you get your student loans paid for that length of time, but come year four or six, you're almost as screwed as you were when you started, as it's vanishingly unlikely that your income will have increased to make up for the loss of the LRAP payments in that amount of time.

So they aren't bad programs, but they're definitely not as good as they're frequently made out to be. And I can personally testify that $1000/month loan payments are No Fun At All.
posted by valkyryn at 9:11 AM on June 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


Being a lawyer is special in a way that being a plumber is not, even though any complex postindustrial society needs a lot of both.

I had a vision of a lawyer driving around in a truck all day making house calls. Wearing overalls.
posted by anniecat at 9:11 AM on June 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


The attrition rates link is outdated. The dynamics of the BigLaw experience from March 2008 are worlds apart from circumstances now. I can tell you that at my firm and from the experiences of my fellow 2005 law school grads, that attrition was indeed rampant up to roughly that point. After my first year, over 50% of my starting law firm class had left.

Some years before that, out of 16 taken on at my Big Firm, half left the next year, and I believe at present they're only retained 2 from that group (at one point the firm went into panic mode, trying to figure out what they were doing wrong).
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 9:11 AM on June 11, 2010


if law schools actually cared about educating students they would bring the student:teacher ratio down to about 1:10 or even less. Basically, he advocated a return to an apprenticeship style of legal education.

I have to remind myself that you folks don't have articles. We cope with similar problems, but perhaps a little attenuated for this.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 9:12 AM on June 11, 2010


Yeah, those electronic sources -- think they're free?

They're cheaper than maintaining an up-to-date physical law library, especially when you consider the fact that they're much faster to use. And for a lot of attorneys a full-blown subscription to something like Lexis or WestLaw is not necessary. More limited services like LoisLaw are less expensive but perfectly adequate.

And electronic sources like the county property records database are in fact free. The cost-savings is in the ease and speed of use and losing the overhead of things like having to make photocopies.
posted by jedicus at 9:13 AM on June 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


And jedicus, I've heard about the patent prosecution offshoring, but I frankly think that those companies are being pennywise and poundfoolish. Even before starting to consider the quality of the outsourced services (quite a fraught issue in and by itself), losing the direct contact between the inventor and the person drafting the patent application seems very risky in my experience. The Intel approach seems a lot more sensible, to say the truth.
posted by Skeptic at 9:13 AM on June 11, 2010


student:teacher ratio down to about 1:10 or even less

Heh, whoops. That should be teacher:student ratio, of course.
posted by jedicus at 9:14 AM on June 11, 2010


Instead, costs have gone up dramatically. Partners are major law firms bill $800 / hour (I know from being on the client end). Those attorneys may do great work, but I sincerely question the value, especially given the low input costs.

From a litigation perspective, the answer is, ironically, technology. First, tools like blackberries and online databasing increase an attorney's workload ten fold, because you are instantly reachable by your entire client list, and expected to respond in kind. I'll be in meetings with partners where they'll be handling 3 other matters on their blackberries, because you have to be immediately responsive to clients when you're billing at those rates. This means partners are working 12-14 hours a day, non-stop. This demand and their 24/7 availability justifies, partially, the increase in billable rates. Whether you, as a client, think you're getting adequate value for your payments is up to you.

Second, electronic discovery has made litigation enormously expensive. Instead of having a warehouse of boxes totaling maybe a couple hundred thousand documents, you have thousands of terabytes of data being processed by an army of hundreds of contract attorneys for working 10 hours a day for YEARS at $200 an hour to meet discovery demands (I've managed a couple of these in my time). And this is AFTER you apply tailored search terms to the electronic data you're required to search, meaning that the law firm is only looking at a fraction of the available electronic data.

I won't say that there's a direct link between the massive scale of electronic discovery and the billing rate of top tier partners, but from a holistic perspective as to the cost of litigation who can afford the types of law firms you're referring to, e-mail is costing you a fortune.
posted by shen1138 at 9:16 AM on June 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


And yet, amongst all studies, law seems one of the most appropriate for distance learning (certainly more than engineering or chemistry). My own mother graduated in Law from Spain's National Distance-Learning University some twenty-five years ago. The ABA's refusal to recognise distance-learning degrees (and the top law schools' own reluctance to offer them or lobby for their recognition) is so blatantly self-serving as to be ridiculous.

Your comment made me frustrated, because I don't think you know what you're talking about. The kind of memorization work that lends itself to distance-learning may work okay for a civil-law system (I don't know enough about the practice of law in such jurisdictions to say), but the American law school class is basically like a giant seminar but with no margin of error for sloppy or vague thinking. I would venture to say that NONE of law school is geared toward memorization. Knowing the cases and statutes is something you're expected to do on your own time. What is taught, through discussion, is a certain manner of thinking, of close reading and deep analysis.

That's probably because of the highly regulated nature of lawyering. With all kinds of license restrictions designed to keep the population restricted. It's the same thing with medical doctors, with the AMA keeping the number of med students low.

Bwahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha! Good one!
posted by thesmophoron at 9:17 AM on June 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


In 1910, the Flexner Report argued that medical schools were too lax in their standards, and too many doctors were being trained. Within 25 years of its release, the number of med schools in the US dropped by 60% and the ones that were left essentially developed the system we now know as modern medicine. If law as a profession has taken on too many tasks, accepted too much mediocrity and done it without a baseline respect for ethics, a study like Flexner's seems an appropriate solution.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 9:18 AM on June 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


I've heard about the patent prosecution offshoring, but I frankly think that those companies are being pennywise and poundfoolish.

The companies I mentioned aren't taking quite as extreme an approach as it may have sounded. For most of the companies the actual drafting was being done in-house or by US-based outside counsel. They would off-shore things like patent proofing and searching. Motorola emphasized that it had the most success with off-shoring "repeated, manageable work" like searching rather than treating the off-shore firms as a direct replacement for in-house counsel. For MS and SAP, the off-shore work is also managed on-site by US attorneys.
posted by jedicus at 9:18 AM on June 11, 2010


They're cheaper than maintaining an up-to-date physical law library, especially when you consider the fact that they're much faster to use.

The big firm is going to have, and use, both. A small firm is likely to have neither. (except, as you say, perhaps limited use of a cheaper electronic source -- download! No time to read it on the clock!)
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 9:18 AM on June 11, 2010


The economy destroyed my nearly guranteed employment with a state AGO. I wasn't expecting six figures, but was looking forward to a job in the public sector where I got to serve the people. I devoted two summers to the AGO, working the first for free just to get my toe in the door (when all my peers at the job were working for pay). The result is that I am studying for the bar with only a hope I will even find a job in this particular state.

It is what it is.
posted by Atreides at 9:18 AM on June 11, 2010


I teach English and the students who are going into law are definitely not at the top of the class.
posted by mecran01 at 9:21 AM on June 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


Instead of having a warehouse of boxes totaling maybe a couple hundred thousand documents, you have thousands of terabytes of data being processed by an army of hundreds of contract attorneys for working 10 hours a day for YEARS at $200 an hour to meet discovery demands (I've managed a couple of these in my time).

Who are these contract attorneys making $200 / hour for doc review and where can I sign up? My understanding is that's off by an order of magnitude.
posted by jedicus at 9:23 AM on June 11, 2010


Relying on Loislaw as a means to do legal research is borderline malpractice, mostly because you cannot meaningfully shepardize your search results. I've had one case come up in loislaw where there were only five listed citations, none of which were the circuit opinion directly overturning the district court opinion that came up. Meanwhile there were 75 citations on westlaw.

Loislaw is ok for saving money on time billed to Westlaw, because you can do your initial research there, but if you're insisting your attorneys use it to the exclusion of other resources, you're asking for trouble.
posted by shen1138 at 9:24 AM on June 11, 2010 [5 favorites]


Who are these contract attorneys making $200 / hour for doc review and where can I sign up? My understanding is that's off by an order of magnitude.

They're being billed out at $200, not working for $200. This is from the perspective of costs to the client, not from the livelihood of the k attorney. Some clients are worse at negotiating billable rates than others.
posted by shen1138 at 9:25 AM on June 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


valkyryn: ClaudiaCenter was talking about Income Based Repayment--not Loan Repayment Assistance. LRAPs are school-funded grants to repay your loans, IBR is a federal program that bases your student loan repayment monthly amount on your income. It doesn't reduce your loans, but it reduces how much you own each month without recapitalizing your interest (which forebearance does). If you combine that with a job that qualifies you for loan forgiveness, ultimately, you don't pay back a portion of your loans.

My school's LRAP was a joke. My two years of unemployment kicked me out of qualification for it.
posted by crush-onastick at 9:27 AM on June 11, 2010


the American law school class is basically like a giant seminar but with no margin of error for sloppy or vague thinking.

God how I wish that were the case. I went to a top-25 law school (which, in my opinion, was wildly overrated, but still), and there was no end of sloppy or vague thinking or even outright not thinking.

Loislaw is ok for saving money on time billed to Westlaw, because you can do your initial research there, but if you're insisting your attorneys use it to the exclusion of other resources, you're asking for trouble.

Well, I'll admit to only ever using Lexis and Westlaw myself, but I imagine there are some fairly slow-moving areas of law where no-frills services like Loislaw are adequate. My overall point that electronic sources are cheaper and more efficient than a physical law library stands, though.
posted by jedicus at 9:27 AM on June 11, 2010


the American law school class is basically like a giant seminar but with no margin of error for sloppy or vague thinking.

Until the students start talking. Seriously, let's not glamorize law school or law students any more. Spending three years with people who lacked the rudimentary math skills to go into finance, the science skills to be a doctor, or the passion to get a PhD is pretty excruciating and the quality/rigor of inclass discussion made me want to drink a lot more than I did. So I did. And now I'm a lawyer. And I'm presenting to a group of summer associates in DC in two hours and just the thought of it makes me want to drink.

I always tell people not to go to law school, but this is independent of the market. Do you want to spend three years surrounded by awkward polisci types that only read biographies and dream of being Rahm Emmanuel and Sam Watterson rolled up in one?
posted by allen.spaulding at 9:27 AM on June 11, 2010 [16 favorites]


Hasn't there been a boom in overseas law offices hiring U.S. graduates? I thought there was a flood of freshly minted lawyers heading to China and Korea. Anyone know anything about that?
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 9:28 AM on June 11, 2010


jinx jedicus. You owe me six drinks.
posted by allen.spaulding at 9:29 AM on June 11, 2010


They're being billed out at $200, not working for $200. This is from the perspective of costs to the client, not from the livelihood of the k attorney. Some clients are worse at negotiating billable rates than others.

I figured that might have been what you meant, though your initial comment was not clear.

But the fact that electronic discovery is massively expensive shouldn't affect the separately-billed partner rates. And it sure as heck shouldn't affect the rates for a partner that does patent prosecution exclusively.
posted by jedicus at 9:29 AM on June 11, 2010


Huh. This looks exactly like the academic job market. Why are people surprised?

What Admiral Haddock said. The expected economic payoff from any professional degree (JD, MBA, PhD) is negative, except possibly for the very top-tier schools. Going into debt in pursuit of a negative expected payoff is stupid.
posted by erniepan at 9:31 AM on June 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


For pity's sake, don't go to law school.

Shit, my dad told me this, and he graduated law school in '70. Only advice of his I ever took.
posted by Afroblanco at 9:31 AM on June 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


Do you want to spend three years surrounded by awkward polisci types that only read biographies and dream of being Rahm Emmanuel and Sam Watterson rolled up in one?

Is ... is this a trick question?
posted by enn at 9:34 AM on June 11, 2010 [8 favorites]


This looks exactly like the academic job market. Why are people surprised?

Because unlike academics, lawyers are generally accustomed to having significant numbers of people actually want to pay for their services.
posted by valkyryn at 9:34 AM on June 11, 2010 [4 favorites]


Hasn't there been a boom in overseas law offices hiring U.S. graduates?

On a small tangent, there used to be (and I imagine still is) a market for top Canadian law students being head-hunted for New York law practices (pretty appealing in the short term). There was also a developing specialty at a couple of Toronto firms strictly serving New York clients.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 9:35 AM on June 11, 2010


This looks exactly like the academic job market. Why are people surprised?

Because a lot of law schools distorted or outright fabricated their employment statistics?
posted by jedicus at 9:36 AM on June 11, 2010


What is taught, through discussion, is a certain manner of thinking, of close reading and deep analysis.

While this is more challenging to teach through distance-learning, it is by no means impossible, and other common law jurisdictions, like England/Wales and Scotland, appear to manage perfectly well. Also, the very same US law schools don't appear to have any trouble offering distance-learning LLMs. Quite frankly, I call bullshit. It isn't as if you need a fully-equipped lab to learn that "lawyer mindset", merely a good set of brains, a good teacher, and some means of communication between the two.

And jedicus, offshoring searches seems more sensible, although only with some good quality control measures in place. As somebody with quite a strong search background, I've vetted search outsourcing offers in the past, and often found them to be quite unmitigated crap. There certainly is a gold rush mentality at play, with plenty of small operations being opened overnight with little experience and plenty of hubris...
posted by Skeptic at 9:36 AM on June 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


While this is more challenging to teach through distance-learning, it is by no means impossible, and other common law jurisdictions, like England/Wales and Scotland, appear to manage perfectly well.

Barrister/solicitor distinction? I will have to ask Mrs. B about this (who teaches legal research), but I'm trying to imagine future litigators who have never mooted, never debated with their contemporaries, never benefited from all those other minds working out the same problems... and I'm just not seeing it.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 9:41 AM on June 11, 2010


When I was working in NYC, the top billing rate at my very fancy firm was $1,000 plus. I don't think it's as high at my current firm, but it is pretty 'spensive in any event.

People are still getting laid off. We just had our spring reviews and five people from my specialist department were canned--I think maybe three second-years, a first-year, and a sixth-year. The bloodletting continues.

Upthreadders have got most of the facts right. The joke is that people go to law school because they are "risk averse"--perhaps as far back as the current crop of 1Ls can remember, becoming a lawyer was like grabbing the brass ring. High paying jobs that you could keep as long as you liked, essentially--there was almost literally a tenure system at my old firm. We had seventeen-year associates with narrow practices--never going to make partner (or even counsel), but happy to do their daily quota of ERISA plan reviews or confidentiality agreements or whatever.

But that's all gone, and it makes no sense whatsoever for someone who is "risk averse" to get into this business. In 2008, my firm fired first years in May after they had started in August or so. Honestly, how is that person going to pay off $125,000 in debt? They're not going to get another go at the brass ring. GAME OVER. Maybe they get a lower-paying law job at $80,000. Maybe not. As posters above note, you can't just jump into pro bono--that is, I think, pretty patronizing assumption. Pro bono work is something that people fight over in the best of times. Pro bono groups aren't going to take just any 6th year credit associate to do housing rights work. Not only do you not have relevant experience, the experience you do have is suspect--as noted above, they assume you'll get frustrated with the outdated computers, lack of a dedicated assistant, shared desks, and you'll quit. Why take the chance on you?

Similarly, even if you're a really phenomenal eighth year securities associate, WHAT IN FUCK'S NAME DO YOU HAVE TO OFFER ANYONE? Right? I mean, at least if you're a litigator, or estate lawyer, you can theoretically hang up a shingle. But capital markets? PE? Hedge funds? If the clients aren't hiring, you're going to the soup line.

Last stop on the express train to Rantsville, it's a pretty shitty job in any event. My treat last night was that the four slide decks I had to make, I could make at home (until 12:30 a.m.). I am on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. I've been reprimanded by a partner for being "unavailable" after closing a deal at 3:30 a.m. then sleeping until 7 a.m.; no rest for the weary.

Unlike a doctor, you don't get time off; you're just not billing.

Don't go to law school.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 9:42 AM on June 11, 2010 [19 favorites]


Great, just what this country needs.. More unemployed lawyers looking for easy revenue streams... What might they think of? Hmm... Oh hey, I've got an idea.. Have them get together with unemployed people looking for easy revenue streams... What might they think of together? Oh hey, look at that! Corporations and/or insurance companies with lots of cash!

????

PROFIT!
posted by eas98 at 9:43 AM on June 11, 2010


but the only people who should go to law school are those who can get substantial funding at a top-tier school. Otherwise, you're just throwing away your money (and possibly your future).

Whoa whoa whoa whoa whoa. When you say "top-tier" are you referring to T-10? T-14? T-25? T-100? While I agree that this advice may be sound for lower T-3 and T-4 private schools [*cough* Cooley *cough*], I'd caution against being overly dismissive of public regional schools.
If I had to put up one of my regional school classmates against T-25 classmates in a litigation deathmatch, I'd bet on my regional classmates every time, because having a T-10 or T-25 policy-based education is fine if you're on a judicial track or politician track, but I would propose that regional schools who emphasize legal research and writing training and actual litigation skills through clinical programs are churning out much more useful associates for actual practice than schools who are churning out associates who are policy wonks [*cough* YLS *cough*].

Plucky public regional law schools, REPRESENT!
posted by Dr. Zira at 9:44 AM on June 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


Something gives me the feeling that Thomas Jefferson School of Law of San Diego is not going to get its money's worth out of the ad that I saw at the bottom of this thread.
posted by sy at 9:44 AM on June 11, 2010 [5 favorites]


I graduated at the top of my class from a tier 2 (100-51) regional school in May '09. I've been unemployed ever since. I passed my state's bar on the first try and used my unemployed time to study for and pass a bar in a different state to give me more options. Still unemployed. Almost everyone I graduated with is unemployed. Some of my friends have found jobs at smaller firms, and the older lawyers know how terrible it is out there and offer salary's of 40k since they know you're desperate for work and will take it. They could have made that coming out of undergrad without the additional debt of Law School.

The annoying part is most of it changed while I was in law school If I had to start law school now, there's no way I would have gone. But entering in 2006 the economy was booming and everyone was getting jobs. It sucks to have the rules changed mid game.

NO ONE SHOULD GO TO LAW SCHOOL UNLESS YOU GET INTO A T14 SCHOOL! And even then you should think long and hard about it. And don't pay sticker price unless you're going to Harvard/Yale/Stanford.
posted by Arbac at 9:47 AM on June 11, 2010


I'm very very grateful that I'm decently employed (I got this job near the end of '08 when the economy was just starting to tank), but I'm not in the city I need to move to, and I'm just starting my search there. It's scary as hell. The only things keeping me sane are my hopes that 1) laterals with experience are having an easier time than the recent graduates, and 2) IP/patent law is less traumatized than other areas. Nothing I'm reading is totally encouraging on either of those two fronts, but the word on the street IS that hiring is picking up lately. My serious sympathies to graduates from '08 who are still jobless though... Jesus, I knew it was bad, but that's nuts.
posted by naju at 9:47 AM on June 11, 2010


Don't go to law school because in the long run that'll help those of us who are really goddamn glad that we did.
posted by applemeat at 9:47 AM on June 11, 2010 [5 favorites]


Because unlike academics, lawyers are generally accustomed to having significant numbers of people actually want to pay for their services.

Perhaps include the odd economics class in the curriculum?
posted by pompomtom at 9:49 AM on June 11, 2010


Thanks for making the post, valkyryn.
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:50 AM on June 11, 2010


So glad I dropped out of law school after the first semester, back in 2004. I was one of the aimless English majors who felt panicky about job prospects, and the default place to go if you were good at reading and writing was law school. Oh my stars. It was awful. I am so glad I quit for so many reasons.
posted by millipede at 9:54 AM on June 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


The kind of memorization work that lends itself to distance-learning may work okay for a civil-law system (I don't know enough about the practice of law in such jurisdictions to say), but the American law school class is basically like a giant seminar but with no margin of error for sloppy or vague thinking. I would venture to say that NONE of law school is geared toward memorization.

Practicing attorney here. There is nothing magical about the law school classroom. I stopped going to classes after my first semester, unless attendance was required, which it mostly was not. I generally only showed up for the exam and studied by practically memorizing a commercial outline. I graduated with almost a 3.0 from a 2nd tier school. If accredited online law schools were available, I suspect I would have been fine and I would have saved about a hundred grand in loans.
posted by MXJ1983 at 9:54 AM on June 11, 2010


This looks exactly like the academic job market. Why are people surprised?

Ph.D. candidates generally get paid while they're pursuing a graduate degree. They don't take on six figure debt before they enter the highly competitive academic job market.
posted by munyeca at 9:56 AM on June 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


May this thread go on forever, because...

I AM SCHADENFREUDING SO HARD RIGHT NOW!!!
posted by slickvaguely at 9:56 AM on June 11, 2010 [7 favorites]


They only pay this for three to five years. The income based repayment program and the public service loan repayment programs are not limited to three to five years. After 10 years for the public service program (which can be combined with IBR), and after 25 years for the IBR by itself, any remaining loan balances are forgiven. Great programs, from what I can tell.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 9:58 AM on June 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


The expected economic payoff from any professional degree (JD, MBA, PhD) is negative, except possibly for the very top-tier schools.

I don't think this is broadly true. It certainly wasn't for me and for a lot of people I know. I'm sure it is true for the person who spends nine years getting a humanities phd from a second-tier department and then spends the rest of their life adjuncting; it isn't at all true for someone who gets a professional degree (of which there are many more than the three you list) from a decent school without getting sidetracked for years; keeps their debt : future income ratio within a sensible range; and makes realistic choices about positioning themselves for employment. That's as true for a PhD as it is for a JD as it is for any number of professional master's degrees.
posted by Forktine at 10:00 AM on June 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


This looks exactly like the academic job market. Why are people surprised?

Because they lined up to get their souls crushed and came to terms with it and planned for it, visualized it and tried so hard, came out at the end after investing so much, only to discover there's a new method of crushing the soul and they don't know anything about it (the stress of six figures debt, the feelings of failing to be good enough to have your soul crushed, the fear and uncertainty, and depression that comes with uncertainty).
posted by anniecat at 10:05 AM on June 11, 2010


I'm sorry I don't have anything to add to this discussion, but I just wanted to pop in and say that http://butidideverythingrightorsoithought.blogspot.com/ is a fantastic URL. Bravo.
posted by Ian A.T. at 10:07 AM on June 11, 2010


IP/patent law is less traumatized than other areas

That is until Bilski eviscerates business method patents and general litigators take over a lot of the work of IP litigators in cleaning up that mess. I've wondered if there might be a short boom after Bilski but I suspect it's going to result in firms cutting down their patent prosecution/litigation staff in the long run.
posted by allen.spaulding at 10:09 AM on June 11, 2010


One result of the baby lawyer glut in a crummy economy is that some firms have been forced to bill in a way that better reflects the value of its services. To keep clients in a tough economy and attract new ones, more creative firms bill by project or phase of litigation rather than the topless billable hour model. Those huge salary jumps (like $30k in 1999 alone) began as a way to keep lawyers from jumping ship to tech startups in the late 1990s, and later on to keep them from leaving for the banking industry.

New billing methods are good. The insane hourly rates billed to clients for first-year associates who couldn't law their way out of a paper bag are really unfair to clients and create perverse incentives (hey, if I drag this out all day, I'll have 8 billable hours!) The rates have to be high to pay the overinflated salaries for baby lawyers (who, as a result of their inexperience, wind up taking longer on projects anyway, even without perverse incentives). To justify the rates to clients, lawyers have to be chained to their desks or blackberries 24-7. To justify their existence to the partners, lawyers have to bill, bill, bill, regardless of the quality of their product. One of my least favorite senior associates I used to work for insisted on "wordsmithing" everything I wrote, which consisted of adding ungrammatical commas and inserting "Moreover" every third paragraph. And billing 2 hours for it and presenting it to the client as his work product.

I hope more flexibility in billing leads to a more humane and honest practice of law, but I'm not optimistic.
posted by *s at 10:12 AM on June 11, 2010


As someone mentioned up above, law schools also are notorious for exaggerating employment and income statistics. It's a widespread practice. A few years back I remember some Tier 2 school boasting a 100% employment figure at 9 months after graduation. It's so easy to game this stuff. If you're employed at Starbucks, that counts in the figure. Let's also make sure we send out the survey only to our big firm graduates, or encourage only them to respond. It's fraudulent and no one's taking the schools to task. Most incoming students also have no clue, unless they've been really savvy and read about the phenomenon in online discussions such as the one we're having.
posted by naju at 10:13 AM on June 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


After 10 years for the public service program (which can be combined with IBR), and after 25 years for the IBR by itself, any remaining loan balances are forgiven.

Only Stafford loans. If you have bank loans, like the vast majority of law students, you're up shit creek without a paddle on those.
posted by valkyryn at 10:15 AM on June 11, 2010


...insisted on "wordsmithing" everything I wrote, which consisted of adding ungrammatical commas and inserting "Moreover" every third paragraph.

Wait, can you elaborate on this? Was it goldbricking or making the document appear more lawyer-y?
posted by griphus at 10:19 AM on June 11, 2010


The insane hourly rates billed to clients for first-year associates who couldn't law their way out of a paper bag are really unfair to clients and create perverse incentives (hey, if I drag this out all day, I'll have 8 billable hours!)

Dude, is this speaking from experience? Because sub-partner (I have no knowledge of their practices), from articles to junior to senior associates, everyone underbills. That is, they may work 8 hours on something but it gets billed out at 6 or 5 (or sometimes much less, especially starting out). Work is constantly being reframed to some ideal of what it “should be” worth. I agree that alternate billing practices are a good idea, but I don’t think the status quo is as you describe.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 10:21 AM on June 11, 2010


The issue is this:

Law schools are cash cows for colleges and universities. At one university I worked at, the law school accounted for 20% of the university's total revenue and 30% of its entire alumni relations revenue. Law schools try to get 'independent' status so they don't have to give so much to the university, but the reality is that faculties and schools in a university need to show their financial viability in order to be recognized as part of the campus plan. If a school within a university is not paying the piper so to speak, they will find themselves edged out - especially when a comprehensive campaign is imminent.
posted by parmanparman at 10:23 AM on June 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


I've wondered if there might be a short boom after Bilski but I suspect it's going to result in firms cutting down their patent prosecution/litigation staff in the long run.

At the aforementioned conference at GWU an IP partner from Howrey had some fascinating predictions regarding the likely litigation fallout of what he felt would be the Supreme Court's decision. This isn't really the right thread to go into the details, but suffice to say that there may well be a lot of opportunity for litigators to mine a lot of fact-intensive issues out of the decision, assuming the Supreme Court plays true to form and announces yet another muddled factor test instead of a straightforward, coherent rule. We'll see what happens.
posted by jedicus at 10:24 AM on June 11, 2010


A few years back I remember some Tier 2 school boasting a 100% employment figure at 9 months after graduation. It's so easy to game this stuff. If you're employed at Starbucks, that counts in the figure

Even worse: being a full time student also counts as 'employed.' Several schools have started the shady practice of offering discounted LL.M tuition to out of work graduates. Any who take the bait inflate the employment stats while paying for the privilege. All they get out of the deal is a(nother) largely worthless degree.
posted by jedicus at 10:26 AM on June 11, 2010


At the aforementioned conference at... --Oh, sorry. Autopilot.
posted by applemeat at 10:28 AM on June 11, 2010


I have a friend who just finished her 1L (on what seems like a reasonably well-planned track, not in corporate or public-interest law). I'm weighing whether to send her a link to this thread, and thanking my lucky stars that I only went on after my BA for a relatively worthless MA in history--which I managed to get through with no debt--instead of the law degree my parents wished I'd gone for. It would really suck to be my age and have my life planned around what they told us it would be like for lawyers in the go-go 80s and suddenly get laid off in the current legal industry upheaval with no alternate career plans.
posted by immlass at 10:38 AM on June 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


This isn't really the right thread to go into the details, but suffice to say that there may well be a lot of opportunity for litigators to mine a lot of fact-intensive issues out of the decision, assuming the Supreme Court plays true to form and announces yet another muddled factor test instead of a straightforward, coherent rule. We'll see what happens.

Certainly, if they repeat their performance with KSR vs. Teleflex and their reliance on "common sense", there won't be any shortage of work for litigators in that field in the future. It won't make the patent prosecutors' work any easier, though. (This said, they're taking an awfully long time to make up their minds, aren't they? Could it be that they have taken note of all the criticism they received for muddling KSR and have decided to issue a copper-clad ruling this time?)
posted by Skeptic at 10:44 AM on June 11, 2010


Now what am I supposed to do after I get my philosophy Ph.D?

I wish the flux capacitor would get invented
posted by Beardman at 10:45 AM on June 11, 2010


Now what am I supposed to do after I get my philosophy Ph.D?

A classmate of mine from my top-25 alma mater had his philosophy doctorate before starting law school. His wife had hers too, as a matter of fact.

He made law review and is now working for a big firm in Texas.

YMMV, obviously.
posted by valkyryn at 10:50 AM on June 11, 2010


The insane hourly rates billed to clients for first-year associates who couldn't law their way out of a paper bag are really unfair to clients and create perverse incentives (hey, if I drag this out all day, I'll have 8 billable hours!)

Durn Bronzefist: Dude, is this speaking from experience?

Yes, it is speaking from experience. In two cities. I've seen associates log lots of unnecessary hours to pad their totals. I agree with you though, those hours get cut by partners who want to keep clients happy, and by clients who get sticker shock after a nasty discovery review or appellate brief results in an astronomical bill. What I've seen is that associates will say X hours, partner may decrease that by 15%, then client refuses to pay unless there's some further reduction or different expectations going forward. My main point is that the billable hour model does not promote efficiency because it rewards those who take longer.

...insisted on "wordsmithing" everything I wrote, which consisted of adding ungrammatical commas and inserting "Moreover" every third paragraph.

griphus: Wait, can you elaborate on this? Was it goldbricking or making the document appear more lawyer-y?

It definitely did not have the effect of making the document more lawyer-y, and this dude liked to brag about his hours, so I'd have to go with goldbricking. He only skimmed it and made some random markings to justify his billings on it.
posted by *s at 10:51 AM on June 11, 2010


Have you ever seen a lawyer standing on a street corner holding a sign that says "Will Litigate For Food"? No? Me either. That's why people continue to enroll in law school, even "poor" lawyers aren't queuing up in the courthouse parking lot hoping, someone will pick them for a day's work.
posted by MikeMc at 10:55 AM on June 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Another professor (also of many years experience and also nameless), said that the last year of legal education--and perhaps even the last two years--was pointless. He said that with a few tweaks you could teach law students everything they really needed to know in one year.

This is more like how it's done in England. To qualify as a solicitor, you need to either have an undergraduate law degree (three years, no need to get a liberal arts education first), or some other bachelor's degree, followed by a one-year conversion course. As I understand it, this is the "thinking like a lawyer" part. Then there is one year of very vocational training. Total amount of time from leaving secondary education to becoming a solicitor: 3–4 years, as opposed to 7 in the U.S. Then you work as basically an apprentice for a couple of years.
posted by grouse at 10:56 AM on June 11, 2010


I turned down a law school acceptance for my Senate job last year. I am really, really, really glad I did.
posted by oneironaut at 10:58 AM on June 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Have you ever seen a lawyer standing on a street corner holding a sign that says "Will Litigate For Food"? No? Me either.

Sorry, but that's a shitty analogy. A lawyer can't, by custom, get a job like that; it would be a tremendous waste of time to attempt to do so. It works for manual laborers because you can more-or-less size up a laborer on the spot. You can't pick a random guy in front of a courthouse by the cut of his suit. The lawyers are sitting at home mailing typing up cover letter after cover letter, resume after resume, possibly in the same shitty condition the guys in the parking lot are experiencing. Except the guys in the parking lot have a better chance getting a job because they can lay concrete, and an easier time generally because they're not in six figure debt.
posted by griphus at 10:59 AM on June 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


Then there is one year of very vocational training.

Wait. You don't have articles, and you don't have bar courses either? (exams, yes, I know)

I agree with you though, those hours get cut by partners who want to keep clients happy

Zounds. It would take nerve (and suicidal career sense) to pad your own bills as an associate and require a partner to chop them down. We were all doing it, quite willingly, on our own (in fact, we were at one point instructed not to do so so the partners could keep track of the hours actually being spent, along with what they billed out, but they just couldn't kill the impulse of people to reason "I spent 3 hours on this, but I know if I were hot shit it would have taken me only 1... I'll call it 1.5")
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 11:03 AM on June 11, 2010


Now what am I supposed to do after I get my philosophy Ph.D?

I have a friend whose husband is chair of the philosophy department at a Big 10 school. She told me awhile ago that when people query them for an application, they actually send them a letter basically saying, "You're not going to get a lot of financial support, and there's almost no chance you'll be able to get a job with your philosophy Ph.D., as we've had very little luck placing our graduates in recent years. If you still want to apply knowing this, well, OK then."

I was actually impressed with their honesty. When I was a grad student in the English dept. at the same school, faculty and administration were evasive and cagey and wouldn't directly answer any questions about placement of Ph.Ds. They'd just say "We're very pleased with our placement rate!" or point out that so-and-so got a tenure-track position at thus-and-such a place last year.
posted by not that girl at 11:03 AM on June 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


Have you ever seen a lawyer standing on a street corner holding a sign that says "Will Litigate For Food"?

No, but there are a lot of lawyers who don't practice anything resembling law. And a lot more who are barely scraping by.
posted by Mental Wimp at 11:05 AM on June 11, 2010


even "poor" lawyers aren't queuing up in the courthouse parking lot hoping, someone will pick them for a day's work.

Yes they are. This is precisely what the federal judge who gave my bar admission speech encouraged us to do. If you go down to your county courthouse (the local one, not the federal one), you're likely to see exactly that.

You've obviously got a beef with the legal profession. That's your prerogative.

But read the damn numbers before you grind your damn axe, dammit. That's just ig'nant.
posted by valkyryn at 11:05 AM on June 11, 2010


Have you ever seen a lawyer standing on a street corner holding a sign that says "Will Litigate For Food"? No? Me either. That's why people continue to enroll in law school, even "poor" lawyers aren't queuing up in the courthouse parking lot hoping, someone will pick them for a day's work.

Lots of folks going to law school look down on PI firms. Maybe some of them felt going to law school was supposed to be a ride to the top and that they wouldn't have to drum up business on their own and sell themselves past sending resumes to firms.

It's weird, but all my college friends who became lawyers work at big firms with fancy websites in fancy locations. I know a few people that went to less prestigious law schools, but I don't know what happened to them. They certainly don't talk about it. They kind of drop off the radar. I can see how it looks like the bulk of lawyers go off to fancy firms and have high salaries. They're the ones who talk about it. Or the ones who have nonprofit lawyer jobs they're proud of, and generally paid fairly well for.

Aren't there a very large number of people with law degrees who simply don't practice?
posted by anniecat at 11:06 AM on June 11, 2010


If you go down to your county courthouse (the local one, not the federal one), you're likely to see exactly that.

So we're pretty much a hop, skip and jump away from that Simpsons scene where a $COLLECTIVE_NOUN of lawyers ambushes the family car, rubbing their JDs on the glass and intoning "me so litigious"?
posted by griphus at 11:09 AM on June 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Durn Bronzefist: It would take nerve (and suicidal career sense) to pad your own bills as an associate and require a partner to chop them down.

I think it was actually rewarded because the starting point for the reductions was higher. It allowed the partner to say, Hey, client, I already cut the bill by 15% for you. No one I knew got in trouble for it. I, on the other hand, got dinged for low billings even though I worked around the clock. I didn't bill for background reading, research that led nowhere, or fuzzyheadedness. Wrong. It was explained to me that if you're in the office for 12 hours, you subtract the hour you take for lunch (or few minutes you spend eating like an animal at your desk) and just divide the remaining 11 hours among the clients you worked for that day. Voila! (Lots of large firms work this way -- when I talk to other associates elsewhere, they pretty much nod when I tell them about this method.)

I thought that sucked, so I left.
posted by *s at 11:13 AM on June 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Main point: The original source of this problem relates to the ability of law firms to hugely inflate the cost of legal representation. That has fed the rest of the problems downstream - willingness of students to take on huge debt and increase of the cost of law schools as they become possible profit centers. Legal services are too expensive.

Consider this: Do you think everyone who needs legal representation gets it? No, they don't. I would even say that most people who need representation or advice do not get it. The reason is primarily cost. How often have you seen situations where people have caved to large rich corporations because they can't afford to fight the legal battle they would likely win. People always talk about how overworked public defenders and legal aid lawyers are; that's because they aren't enough of them!

What I find surprising is that so few people recognize that the solution to legal advice being so expensive and lots of people not getting the legal services they should get is MORE LAWYERS! Both of the problems are a result of undersupply. People always love to complain about there being "too many lawyers" but the ratio of lawyers to population is actually quite low historically (pretty sure about this, but not 100%).

The current disruption in the legal profession may just be a much-needed adjustment. Consider that while we have seen constant news stories about BigLaw laying associates off right and left and deferring or revoking new hire offers, what you don't see as often is the fact that at many of these firms, equity partner profits stayed the same or even increased! Layoffs were not necessarily needed in some cases. Rather they were made to maintain or increase partner profit while the partners had the bad economy as PR and reputational cover. Hopefully, we will see new firm models and new billing procedures that will allow new players to replace the old BigLaw/equity partner model.

(I strongly suspect that the equity partner model of law firms is at the very heart of all of this. That is what has driven the increase in the cost of legal services which has in turn contributed heavily to the rest of the problems. Of course, looking at what led to the economic conditions that made such increases possible is also needed. Note that one contributing factor to the ability of equity partners to do this is the limitation on the number of attorneys produced by limitations on the number of places in law schools and by licensing restrictions. That brings us back around to the conclusion that the answer is more lawyers.)

So I see more law schools and more lawyers as a good thing. The problem then becomes how do we maintain both while decreasing the cost of going to law school. That is not an easy problem to solve.

Cutting costs could be one approach. That probably means decreasing faculty compensation (which pains me a little to say since I'm a law professor). One of the possible drivers of faculty compensation has not been the same cause of as the increase in the cost of legal services. Instead, I suspect the incredibly overinflated importance given to the US News rankings has played a large role. It has resulted in law schools offering more money to attract the most highly thought of scholars. It has also resulted in increases in the size of faculties to increase scholarly reputation of the faculties. This is especially true of public law schools. When you combine this with the availability of law school loan financing, the result is the increased cost of a law school degree.

Another approach would be subsidy. If you measure the value of a law degree by the salary you receive after graduation, then the majority of law students subsidize the value of the few law students who get the few high paying jobs. See the bimodal distribution linked above. Loan repayment programs are an interesting start.

OK, more to say, but that is probably too much for one comment anyway!
posted by eviltwin at 11:13 AM on June 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


Yes they are. This is precisely what the federal judge who gave my bar admission speech encouraged us to do. If you go down to your county courthouse (the local one, not the federal one), you're likely to see exactly that.

I am in Municipal Court twice a week for client status listings and have never seen this.
posted by The Straightener at 11:15 AM on June 11, 2010


The discontent from the blogs has been bubbling up into mainstream news stories about the lost promise of law school. There was even a piece in the Jewish Journal about how the hundred-year-old “why not go to law school?” wisdom is over.

But the very best thing I have ever seen on the topic is this unsparing YouTube cartoon series, “A Law School Carol.”
posted by thelastenglishmajor at 11:15 AM on June 11, 2010


For non-lawyers, here is a primer on why billable hours suck for associates (and clients):
1. Firms will establish annual billable hours quotas, e.g., 1800-2000 per year. Some firms also pay annual bonuses for hours billed in excess of the quota.
2. Depending upon the firm's policy, this quota may or may not include hours an associate work is required to work on contingency cases.
3. As you may or may not have inferred from the Cravath System summary linked in the FPP, associates don't bring in business to the firm; that is largely the role of partners. Thus, associates rely upon partners to farm work out to them.
4. If a firm is associate-heavy, partners may not be bringing in enough billable work, but by the same token, may not reduce the associates' billable hours requirement. This leaves associates scrambling for work to bill.
5. In the practice of law, the only incentives for efficient practice of law occur in flat fee, contingency or pro bono cases in which the number of hours that you bill does not directly correspond with the income brought into the firm. Billable hours actually deincentivize efficient work.
posted by Dr. Zira at 11:15 AM on June 11, 2010


Have you ever seen a lawyer standing on a street corner holding a sign that says "Will Litigate For Food"? No? Me either.

Sorry, but that's a shitty analogy.
It really is a shitty analogy (for any white collar worker, actually). I'd also like to point out that it's also much more difficult to just take cases and represent clients without a firm behind you than you might think. This is true if you've been an attorney for ten years, and if you just passed the bar last month, it's pretty much impossible. If you've you just passed the bar last month, you have no idea what a client trust account is, much less do you have the funds to start one. Hell, you don't even know what room in a courthouse you walk to to file motions or an appearance form. So, if you graduate from law school without a job, you have no marketable skills in your field. You also have a $2000/month loan payment kicking in and a debt load that makes it really difficult for you to find funds to set up a small business that you know nothing about running and nothing about performing adequately as.

I remember reading--many years ago--an article about a pilot program in New York state that put college graduates in the state's attorneys office[fn1] as apprentices. After 2-3 years, if the office sponsored them, they could sit for the state bar. There may have been some law school coursework required--I don't recall and can't find the article. I remember thinking: This is the only way to save the profession. This needs to be the future of legal education. But as long as law schools make money for universities, it will never happen.

[fn1] It may also have included public defenders offices, but I don't know if New York actually has an office of the public defender. Some states don't have an actual state agency which supplies defense attorneys to indigent defendants. Instead, they have a stipend and a list of private attorneys who are available to be appointed in case. Some states have both.
posted by crush-onastick at 11:16 AM on June 11, 2010


Have you ever seen a lawyer standing on a street corner holding a sign that says "Will Litigate For Food”?

The one down the street from me hung a desperate yellow sign out his second-story office window saying, “I NEED A JOB” and promising to do document review, notarizing, anything.
posted by thelastenglishmajor at 11:16 AM on June 11, 2010


Corrected link to A Law School Carol.
posted by thelastenglishmajor at 11:17 AM on June 11, 2010


It was explained to me that if you're in the office for 12 hours, you subtract the hour you take for lunch (or few minutes you spend eating like an animal at your desk) and just divide the remaining 11 hours among the clients you worked for that day.

Wow. That's... I don't think I'll attempt to characterize that.
We had software that put a small clock in the corner of your screen. Working on a file hit the clock and "start". More files: more clocks. (you might have a dozen, or 16 of the little suckers for the most common files you're working on there) Phone rings and it's so-and-so on another file? Clock 1 stops and clock 2 starts.

You could keep track on paper instead but it was hell trying to keep it all straight.
To not even attempt to do so...
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 11:20 AM on June 11, 2010


I would like to find a lawyer who charged a reasonable amount to represent me in a civil matter. Most law firms I have called want $200/hr. Many of them only want to work for businesses or they specialize in personal injury and that sort of thing. From my perspective, there are not too many lawyers. It seems there is a sort of limbo between the maximum allowed in small claims court ($7-8K here) and where it makes sense to sue someone and in that area there isn't really any justice to be had.
posted by Tashtego at 11:23 AM on June 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Part of the reason that there are no longer any shows like "LA Law" (most of my friends from college who went on to the legal profession did so because they fantasized about working at McKenzie Brackman) or "Ally McBeal" or "Boston Legal" or "The Practice" developed for the TV networks (other than maybe "Damage"?) has got to be that there's just no way to make the profession look glamorous and sexy anymore.
posted by blucevalo at 11:26 AM on June 11, 2010


Sorry, but that's a shitty analogy.

It really is a shitty analogy (for any white collar worker, actually).


Wow! All I'm saying is that relative to a lot of other jobs/professions people still perceive law a safe and potentially very lucrative, profession. I'm sure there are many law school grads loaded with debt and struggling to get by but relatively speaking they're not "poor". I mean you don't see makeshift migrant lawyer camps outside Yonkers or anything. And to the person above who thinks I have a beef with lawyers, I don't. I actually considered pursuing law as a profession when I was younger but it didn't work out that way. I do however think the legal profession is quite lax is disciplining it's own.
posted by MikeMc at 11:27 AM on June 11, 2010


I'm sure there are many law school grads loaded with debt and struggling to get by but relatively speaking they're not "poor". I mean you don't see makeshift migrant lawyer camps outside Yonkers or anything.

Sorry, I consider six figures under and no job prospects that can take you out of that any time soon to be poor. They may have nice things they bought by betting on their future with loans, but all that stuff can vanish pretty quick when you have to sell it off to pay the rent. The problem is that after getting out of law school, you need a job that can pay $2000/month in private loans -- you can't just take a job stocking shelves at WalMart even if you suck up your pride. This is a different culture and you can't really transport a lawyer into the style of poverty that blue-collar workers end up in.
posted by griphus at 11:32 AM on June 11, 2010


I'm sure there are many law school grads loaded with debt and struggling to get by but relatively speaking they're not "poor". I mean you don't see makeshift migrant lawyer camps outside Yonkers or anything.

Yeah, for most places in the country, paying for a legal education is about as expensive as buying a house except:

1) you can't sell it; and

2) the debt cannot be discharged in bankruptcy.

The clusterfuck that is our legal market now is that people/law schools/tv/whatever sold 22 year olds (and older; I didn't go to law school straight through) on buying a house that they intended to live in forever. They got a mortgage and find out that the house has burned to the ground and no insurance covers the loss, but they still have to pay the mortgage for the next 30 years. The debt is, what, $1,000 dollars a month. And the only way to stop paying is to pay it off. No "jingle mail" or whatever they call it. After all the interest, you've probably spent about $300,000.

I call that poor.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 11:42 AM on June 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Maybe some people involved in hiring (in law) can inform us which is the more impressive (or least unimpressive) resume: gaps in employment (perhaps immediately following law school) while the person searched for work in the field vs. employment gaps filled with Starbucks.

I’m going to go ahead and guess the first would be better off. Not having confidence in your abilities does not inspire confidence in anyone else.

I wonder how the legal temp companies are doing (most, I recall, have divisions devoted to long-term/permanent placement, for which they get paid out, of course).
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 11:48 AM on June 11, 2010


I really think the nation would be better off if half the people who went to law school went to engineering school instead. I'm not one of those "lawyers are evil and useless" people. But the fact is that except for a small subset of lawyers working in very specific fields, it is mostly extracting value in the same way that bankers at GS do. Engineers make stuff.

So for pity's sake, don't go to law school. Go to engineering school instead.
posted by Justinian at 11:49 AM on June 11, 2010


The original source of this problem relates to the ability of law firms to hugely inflate the cost of legal representation. That has fed the rest of the problems downstream - willingness of students to take on huge debt and increase of the cost of law schools as they become possible profit centers. Legal services are too expensive.

I don't think you have a very good grasp of the economics of the legal profession.

It's true that the big law firms, whose clients tend to be corporations, not private individuals, have drastically increased the amount they charge for their services over the past decade. As has been discussed above, some of this was because they needed to increase their compensation to prevent their talent from leaving for Silicon Valley and Wall St., but some of it was just because they could: demand for corporate legal services is high--lower than it's been, but still high--and supply for corporate legal services is relatively static.

But the economics of penny-ante law, the sort of law that most private citizens wind up needing at some point in their life, hasn't changed all that much in the last century. Fighting a DUI, getting a divorce, buying a house, defending a misdemeanor criminal charge, executing a will, all of these can be done by a local attorney for a flat fee, generally in the $150-500 range. This really isn't all that much, considering what's at stake most of the time, and adjusted for inflation, these prices haven't changed much. There are plenty of lawyers who are barely scraping by handling these sorts of issues.

The problem is that law schools have started charging tuition as if all of their students were going to get jobs in BigLaw, a completely unrealistic assumption for all but the top handful of schools. Even at my top-25 school, only about a third of us got into BigLaw--less in my class, 2009, which got completely shafted by the economy. But outside the top-50 it's way less than one in ten.

One thing I think this thread has illustrated is that there's really very little understanding outside the legal profession of the internal differences of the profession. All the firms you see on the backs of phone books, on billboards, and on TV? They're all plaintiffs' attorneys working bodily injury cases and defense attorneys doing criminal law work. The big, expensive firms don't really advertise much. If they do, it's in trade magazines and corporate sponsorships. Go down to your local professional sporting venue and you're likely to see a box or three occupied by one of these corporate legal outfits.

The reason public defenders are over worked is because there aren't enough of them, but this is because there isn't any money in that! I don't mean that there isn't enough money to get rich, though obviously that's true. I mean that there simply isn't enough money in the several states' budgets to pay for more public defenders, even at $30k a hit, which is pretty standard. You can't run a law practice for $30k a year. WestLaw alone will run you almost $10k a year, and unless you want to work out of your living room--because that's professional--you're spending another few grand on office space.

But the same goes for things like landlord-tenant law. Plenty of people need help here, people who can't afford the $250 they'd need for legal representation. But any less than that and it's just impossible to make ends meet. Again, we're a long way from making a decent living, we're just trying to meet our expenses and be able to pay rent afterwards. A solo practitioner who generates $100k in revenue would barely count as middle class after he pays his expenses.
posted by valkyryn at 11:55 AM on June 11, 2010 [7 favorites]


Maybe some people involved in hiring (in law) can inform us which is the more impressive (or least unimpressive) resume: gaps in employment (perhaps immediately following law school) while the person searched for work in the field vs. employment gaps filled with Starbucks.

I've heard a few hiring partners at major firms talk about their resume-sifting strategy. The talk always goes something like this: "I don't get paid extra to do this, and I can't bill it to a client, so I try to make it go as quickly as possible. There are far more qualified applicants than positions, so I look for a reason, any reason at all, to throw out your resume. The more I can throw out, the better. Misspelled a word? Gone. Out of our required grade range by a fraction of a point? Gone."

So for larger firms the answer is pretty clear: anyone with gaps in employment is not going to get hired. In the "lost generation" article, the executive director of the National Association for Law Placement (i.e., a guy whose job is to make sure students can get jobs), had this to say about the classes of 2009/10/11/12:
I don’t think Biglaw will ever reabsorb that group of people. Maybe a few individuals, but not statistically… For a large group of people that came of in age in this time … their career paths will look very different [than people who graduated during past boom times]…

It’s just their bad luck.
So, yeah, once you get off track it's virtually impossible to get back on. Law firms would rather just hire someone straight out of school.
posted by jedicus at 11:58 AM on June 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


For an idea of the insane disparity between the two worlds of lawyers, look at this chart of starting salaries from 2008. It's basically an inverse Bell Curve.
posted by Copronymus at 12:05 PM on June 11, 2010


So, yeah, once you get off track it's virtually impossible to get back on. Law firms would rather just hire someone straight out of school.

And again, the reason us legal-types are harping so much about BigLaw jobs is that they're literally the only way to pay off your massive tuition debt in a reasonable amount of time.

I don't work for BigLaw, but I'm fortunate (lucky?) enough to be employed. Unless I inherit a ton of money I'm not expecting to inherit, I'm going to be paying Citibank until I'm in my mid-forties.

This is not what I signed up for.
posted by valkyryn at 12:07 PM on June 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


One thing I think this thread has illustrated is that there's really very little understanding outside the legal profession of the internal differences of the profession. All the firms you see on the backs of phone books, on billboards, and on TV? They're all plaintiffs' attorneys working bodily injury cases and defense attorneys doing criminal law work.

In fact, these outfits are (in my experience) not legal practices at all. They are big referral services that rely on economies of scale in advertising, presumably collect a bounty, and then pass the work on to actual lawyers (who may very well be struggling).
posted by grobstein at 12:09 PM on June 11, 2010


So, yeah, once you get off track it's virtually impossible to get back on. Law firms would rather just hire someone straight out of school.

This is absolutely true, and is the scariest part about the whole thing. I know a lot of people who went to law school for the opportunities (not just making money, but people who wanted to do pro bono work, or work for NGOs, or whatever), but who recognized that they might have to work in big law for a few years to pay off their loans. Then, they get fired in the downturn, and it is exceedingly hard to pay that debt off. One of these people is working as a temp. Not as a legal temp, just as an administrative assistant. This is someone from a top five law school.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 12:10 PM on June 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


The problem is that law schools have started charging tuition as if all of their students were going to get jobs in BigLaw, a completely unrealistic assumption for all but the top handful of schools.

I know that the general economic situation is different now than it was then, but haven't law schools done this for at least the last 20-25 years? I'm dating myself, but when I was applying to law schools, friends also applying would sort of sneer at me if I voiced a preference for working at anything other than BigLaw LLP.
posted by blucevalo at 12:12 PM on June 11, 2010


Anecdote is not data, etc etc....

Graduated from Pierce Law in New Hampshire. Highly ranked for its IP program (though that's mostly in terms of patent law, and I don't do patents). Between taking the bar and being sworn in, worked at the same bagel shop I worked at in college. Only slightly humiliating.

Soon afterward, grabbed a law school pal and we started our own firm. Four plus years later, I'm sitting in my own office, across from our paralegal, actually making a living.

So yeah, it can be done. A patient wife/girlfriend/family, and the ability to live on Ramen for a while, is required. Not for everyone, and probably not for every practice area. But it can be done.

And yet, one of the people we use for contract work is a very talented attorney and Harvard grad who, for reasons completely unfathomable to us, can't find a job. It's weird out there.

Also, I would point out that Pierce Law has established the Daniel Webster Scholar Honors Program, which is designed to give students real, practical legal experience. And upon completion, students are admitted to the New Hampshire bar without taking the bar exam. More schools should look into this model.
posted by schoolgirl report at 12:13 PM on June 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


One of these people is working as a temp. Not as a legal temp, just as an administrative assistant. This is someone from a top five law school.

Someone I know won very prestigious articles but upon completing them and being called to the Bar, due to the economic downturn, was offered legal secretarial work or the street. She took the work. She may or may not graduate from binding factums to writing them -- what she was trained to do.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 12:16 PM on June 11, 2010


>>The problem is that law schools have started charging tuition as if all of their students were going to get jobs in BigLaw, a completely unrealistic assumption for all but the top handful of schools.

I know that the general economic situation is different now than it was then, but haven't law schools done this for at least the last 20-25 years?


Sort of. It's true that there has been increasing pressure to go for BigLaw since the mid-1980s, but the money didn't really start to get weird until the late 1990s and early 2000s. First year associate salaries just about doubled from 1988 to 2008, and law school tuition went up by more than that. But the number of BigLaw jobs didn't, while the number of law students and law schools, did.

Which brings us to our current, unsustainable predicament.
posted by valkyryn at 12:47 PM on June 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


@valkyryn

I don't think you have a very good grasp of the economics of the legal profession.

I think this is the only part of your comment that I disagree with, although I concede that you appear to have much more experience in certain aspects of it than I do. But I don't see how anything you said after this really conflicts with anything I said. Two reasons why it might seem like we disagree (even though I don't think we do):

1. One aspect of both our comments and almost all the comments in this thread is the combination of several issues as if they are necessarily the same problem or somehow inexplicably linked. Those are (1) the exceedingly high cost of a legal education, (2) the high cost of legal services (but see second point below), and (3) the number of law schools and lawyers. There are historical causal relationships between some of them, but they don't have to be linked going forward. For example, law schools can charge as much as they now do because of the high salaries that are possible for law graduates (though not probable). It has also made the creation of new schools much much easier. I do maintain that other factors have pushed schools to take advantage of this such as non-discharge-ability of loans and Deans' jobs being dependent on US News rankings.

2. I left something out of my comment. Namely that my view also assume that society should do a better job of subsidizing legal services that are not currently met, whether it is because states won't pay for more public defenders or it is because a family can't pay $500 and the lawyer can't afford to offer the services for less. If we as a society are going to exercise power over people through a legal system, then we as a society ought to ensure that everyone has at least adequate access and representation in that legal system.
posted by eviltwin at 12:48 PM on June 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


And again, the reason us legal-types are harping so much about BigLaw jobs is that they're literally the only way to pay off your massive tuition debt in a reasonable amount of time.

Please don't speak for all of us "legal-types." And No, BigLaw is Not "literally the only way" to manage the (granted, outrageous) costs of law school Oh boy, am I sick of that trope. My early career years mirrored schoolgirl report's--a lot of unglamorous, hourly-paid, small-firm work without onyx-floored auspices, health insurance or a safety net. What I got out of that? I found a specialty that I loved and I learned the living shit out of it. (Is that even possible to do in a big firm?) Now I'm on my own. Not wealthy--but comfortable. BigLaw and I had nothing to do with one another Thank god.
posted by applemeat at 12:55 PM on June 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


eviltwin, the reason I said you didn't understand the economics is because most lawyers who serve the sort of people you're talking about are already charging as little as they possibly can and still stay in business. Adding more lawyers to the situation won't change the basic cost of doing business. Again, there are plenty of lawyers willing to do this sort of work for as little as possible, but even that amount is beyond the grasp of many who need legal services. This is a problem, but it isn't one that more lawyers would solve.

The subsidization argument is entirely different, and though it's a discussion worth having, I'm not sure it's worth having in this thread. Perhaps that's fodder for another FPP...
posted by valkyryn at 12:57 PM on June 11, 2010


applemeat, the obvious question is then "When did you graduate from law school?"

Because from your description, it's been at least five years, which would mean you pre-date the worst of the problem. Even as recently as 2006, people who didn't get jobs with BigLaw could still get jobs. Today, we're looking at 30-50% unemployment of new law graduates. Can't get legal jobs because there aren't any, and they're competing with the 6000 laid-off BigLaw associates. Can't get non-legal jobs because they're overqualified.
posted by valkyryn at 1:00 PM on June 11, 2010


Kam may not have the engineering, accounting or other practical skills that make it easier to find a job quickly out of college, but he's got one thing going for him — no student debt. That's thanks to his grandmother who helped him pay his college tuition.

He plans to leave for New York in August and work for a year, save some money and then escape the rough job market by applying to law school.

"As far as I'm concerned, evading the real world for a little bit is not a bad idea, especially with the current economic climate," Kam says. "Law school is a great way to kill time."



What's interesting is how parents still think law school is a good bet and are encouraging him to go pursue his dreams. It sounds like his real dream is just to live in New York. Hopefully he'll get a job at a law firm and make an informed decision after that.
posted by anniecat at 1:03 PM on June 11, 2010


Can't believe I missed this all day, but this discussion really isn't complete without a mention of ABA Formal Opinion 08-451, authorizing outsourcing of substantive legal work. Contract work and document review farms are becoming the new American white collar sweatshops, with an ever increasing supply of more and more desperate graduates deeper and deeper in debt putting downward pressure on wages.

Yet the ABA keeps accrediting places like the Earle Mack College of Law at Drexel University and University of La Verne College of Law, hell, even Phoenix School of Law.
More than a few bloggers are taking aim at the law school industrial complex, and the issue is clearly leaking out into the mainstream media.
posted by T.D. Strange at 1:05 PM on June 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


@valkyryn

Yes, I agree. Most of the students I teach go on to the type of practice you describe, and from what I can see most of them are fairly happy doing it.

The reason I added the second point in my second comment about subsidization is that you're correct in that under the current set-up adding more lawyers by itself wouldn't make a huge impact, if any at all.

I think that right now with this so-called glut of lawyers would be an excellent time to address the issue of some many people not getting the representation they need. Unfortunately, any and all of the possible funding entities (such as states) are being hit just as hard by the economy.
posted by eviltwin at 1:14 PM on June 11, 2010


Yet the ABA keeps accrediting places like the Earle Mack College of Law at Drexel University and University of La Verne College of Law, hell, even Phoenix School of Law.

Is it the ABA's job to keep an artificially limited supply of law school places?
posted by grouse at 1:24 PM on June 11, 2010


Is it the ABA's job to keep an artificially limited supply of law school places?

Now that you mention it, yes. What do you think ABA accrediation, bar exams, LSATs, MPREs, Model Rules, Ethics Opinions, etc are for? To protect clients from bad lawyers, yes, but primarily as barriers to entry. To keep costs of becoming a lawyer high and maintain a quality product that's worth $500/hr or whatever. A client is hardly well served by a Arizona State history major with a JD from University of Phoenix Online Law School, and the existence of a glut of subpar schools both directs students into a field where they aren't needed and harms the professional reputation and earnings of lawyers already out practicing and otherwise qualified new graduates.

The ABA is hardly "artificially limiting" the supply. They're actively facilitating the artificial inflation of supply by accrediting anyone with a Lexis subscription and a spare basement and perpetuating the myth that everyone with a JD is entitled to a corner office and $160k to start. In the process they're killing demand for legal work and devaluing the worth of a JD to nil.

"GOAL I:
SERVE OUR MEMBERS.

Objective:
Provide benefits, programs and services which promote members’ professional growth and quality of life."


Seems to me that the promoting, or at the very least not actively destroying, the ability of graduates to find paying employment (not 160k, how about 40k?) should be one of the top priorities of the ABA.
posted by T.D. Strange at 1:47 PM on June 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yet the ABA keeps accrediting places like the Earle Mack College of Law at Drexel University and University of La Verne College of Law, hell, even Phoenix School of Law.
More than a few bloggers are taking aim at the law school industrial complex, and the issue is clearly leaking out into the mainstream media.


You shouldn't equate a school like Drexel with one like Phoenix. Completely different structures, programs, philosophies, etc.

Of course, when you cite and link to bloggers who use the auto-admit term TTT, your credibility drops to zero or below. There has rarely been a greater collection of ignorance than the auto-admit boards where the TTT term was spawned. (And that is putting it very, very nicely.) I'm not applying that to you; rather, I'm pointing out that when you link to them, you lose all credibility.

US News ranking (tiers) is in no way linked to the quality of the education those schools provide. The ranking don't even make an attempt to measure the schools' programs of legal education (even though that's what they say they are ranking). The rankings are primarily based on reputation and that reputation is primarily based on the school's ranking. It's a completely circular endeavor. And the only input outside of that that has much effect is based on the scholarly output of the school's faculty and not the educational value the students receive. The specialty rankings are loosely linked to the quality of some programs.

I'm not saying there are not bad law schools out there. I'm just saying a school's tier isn't a way to make that determination.
posted by eviltwin at 1:52 PM on June 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Is it the ABA's job to keep an artificially limited supply of law school places?

It would be better if the ABA required law schools to be more upfront about their graduates' real employment rates, the kind of work they get, the kind of money they earn, and the kind of debt they take out to graduate. The problem would mostly take care of itself if schools had to be brutally honest about the fact that many if not most of their graduates end up struggling with student debt.

Or the ABA could do everyone a favor and say "If your average graduate takes on more debt than he or she can manage based on the salary an average graduate earns, then you are charging too much. Cut tuition or lose your accreditation."

But the ABA has utterly failed to take action on this problem. So, since it won't do that, maybe it would be better if the ABA simply stopped accrediting so many schools outright.
posted by jedicus at 1:53 PM on June 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm sure the ABA would like to do what T.D. Strange seems to want them to do. Unfortunately for the ABA and those seeking to artificially suppress the number of lawyers, the ABA is subject to anti-trust laws just like everyone else. Their consent decree with the DOJ and their fear of having to revisit those issues again limit what they can do.
posted by eviltwin at 1:58 PM on June 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


US News ranking (tiers) is in no way linked to the quality of the education those schools provide.

That's why I think the rankings should be based on the following factors:

1. percentage of graduates employed at 6 months as weighted by job satisfaction, including pay
2. graduate income to debt ratio

And that's it. Do graduates get the kind of job they want, and is the education affordable? Everything else is a weak secondary marker at best or irrelevant or outright misleading at worst. U.S. News (or the ABA or somebody) should rank schools by interviewing graduates, not by polling the schools and professors. There's an enormous conflict of interest and the data is largely junk anyway.
posted by jedicus at 1:58 PM on June 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


It would be better if the ABA required law schools to be more upfront about their graduates' real employment rates, the kind of work they get, the kind of money they earn, and the kind of debt they take out to graduate. The problem would mostly take care of itself if schools had to be brutally honest about the fact that many if not most of their graduates end up struggling with student debt.

The ABA is actually trying to push quite a bit of this. The problem is that schools have no way of getting this information other than basically relying on graduates calling them and telling them. And let me tell you, that doesn't work. Shoot, law schools are required to report bar passage information and yet many state bars won't tell schools if their graduates passed or not. Schools have to hunt down students to try and get the information.

(They do have access to the debt information, but I'd have to look at the state and federal privacy laws to see if they could publish it in the aggregate. My intuition is that they could do it in the aggregate.)

Most students are aware of how much debt they will be in and many are aware of the low likelihood that they will have one of the few high paying jobs. The problem is that they still make the choice to take on the debt and take that chance. It's more bad decision-making on their part than it is deception by law schools.

Sure some students may be "deceived" by some law schools, but I don't think that's the heart of it.
posted by eviltwin at 2:05 PM on June 11, 2010


That's why I think the rankings should be based on the following factors:

1. percentage of graduates employed at 6 months as weighted by job satisfaction, including pay
2. graduate income to debt ratio

And that's it. Do graduates get the kind of job they want, and is the education affordable? Everything else is a weak secondary marker at best or irrelevant or outright misleading at worst. U.S. News (or the ABA or somebody) should rank schools by interviewing graduates, not by polling the schools and professors. There's an enormous conflict of interest and the data is largely junk anyway.


That would be a very useful and helpful approach, and I think some of the ABA's current initiatives toward outcome assessment measures as a part of accreditation have that in mind. It still suffers from the problem that schools would have a very difficult time obtaining the first set of data and half the second set of data (salary). Schools report some of it now, but that data is widely held to unreliable and gamed by many schools. And the schools do that gaming and other suspicious behavior now when it is only a tiny part of the US News rankings. You'd almost have to have some body independent of the law schools collect the data and that would be a massive, massive undertaking.

There are other issues with it as well that might need exploring, but it seems like a promising direction.

One thing that isn't included is a measure of the quality of the legal education. I suppose the first data point is an indirect measure, but it is very indirect. If what the law school is supposed to be providing is a legal education, why not try measure that?
posted by eviltwin at 2:15 PM on June 11, 2010


You shouldn't equate a school like Drexel with one like Phoenix. Completely different structures, programs, philosophies, etc.

Of course, when you cite and link to bloggers who use the auto-admit term TTT, your credibility drops to zero or below.


I don't know anything about the schools specifically, and the point isn't necessarily to impugn this one or that, the only point is there are too many. I can't find a citation off hand, but there are something like 35-40,000 jobs annually requiring a JD, and 150,000+ currently enrolled law students, not even counting out of work lawyers already on the market. I just don't see how more law schools can possibly benefit anyone, other than universities feeding on free federal loans. Which is of course the root of the problem in the first place, but unlikely to be addressed anytime soon in our bailout political culture.

Regarding the auto admit terminology, I’m not endorsing that mentality, and not all of the blogs linked employ the terms. I’m only adding some anecdotal points of reference to the discussion, take it for whatever you think its worth. As far as my credibility, I’m just a 2009 law graduate on the internet, hoping that a few less people make the same mistake.
posted by T.D. Strange at 2:23 PM on June 11, 2010


The ABA is actually trying to push quite a bit of this. The problem is that schools have no way of getting this information other than basically relying on graduates calling them and telling them. And let me tell you, that doesn't work. Shoot, law schools are required to report bar passage information and yet many state bars won't tell schools if their graduates passed or not. Schools have to hunt down students to try and get the information.

Pish-posh. The schools aren't trying very hard at all. You want a fantastic reporting rate? Easy: pay the students to fill out the survey. You'd be amazed what people will do for a $5 gift card and a chance at a $1000 prize.

The ABA and state bars also aren't trying hard enough. You want a fantastic reporting rate? Easy: Make reporting to your school a condition of admittance / continued admittance to the bar. Make it a condition of attorney membership in the ABA.

More ideas: did you get a loan from your school? There's a token interest rate reduction / principal forgiveness in it from you if you fill out the survey. Do you want a transcript? Better fill out the survey first. Need a new copy of your diploma? Survey first.

There are innumerable carrots and sticks that can be used by the schools, the ABA, and the state bars to encourage near universal reporting. You can even get the law students used to the idea by making filling out a survey for your first and second summer jobs a condition of continued attendance at the school.

The law schools aren't even trying.
posted by jedicus at 2:24 PM on June 11, 2010 [4 favorites]


The problem is that schools have no way of getting this information other than basically relying on graduates calling them and telling them...Schools have to hunt down students to try and get the information.

You would think that schools' OCI programs would be ideally suited to obtain this kind of follow up information from their graduates. Yet, I would be willing to bet that many law school graduates have had more contact from their former schools' alumni development departments asking for donations (bwhahahahahaha!) than they've had contact from their former law school to follow up on employment.
posted by Dr. Zira at 2:31 PM on June 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


At my school, the law program was simply a money-making machine. Exceedingly low marginal costs, with low capital expenditures. We had, in some classes, students sitting in the aisles--but every additional student (or "FAFSA host entity") meant another $120,000 in tuition. Lots of transfers, too--though I don't begrudge the transfer students at all (some great folks there, and very smart)--but the idea seemed to be that the school would keep its admissions numbers high by admitting only those applicants who had sufficiently high LSATs and GPAs, and then would come for another pass at the trough by admitting as 2L transfers a million more people. There are no labs, no materials to supply, and they could be chintzy on aid because, hell, we're all getting big law jobs!

There really is no incentive to stop the machine when there's new grist for the mill each year.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 2:44 PM on June 11, 2010


You would think that schools' OCI programs would be ideally suited to obtain this kind of follow up information from their graduates. Yet, I would be willing to bet that many law school graduates have had more contact from their former schools' alumni development departments asking for donations (bwhahahahahaha!) than they've had contact from their former law school to follow up on employment.

At most smaller schools, the Office of Career Services (is that what you were referring to by "OCI"?) overlaps almost entirely with any alumni activities, including to contacting alumni for fundraising purposes. In fact, I've heard, albeit anecdotally, that some of the problem schools have in getting in contact with alumni stems from alumni trying to dodge fundraising efforts.

Certainly, schools are able to get in touch with many graduates; I'm just pointing out (from what is pretty close to first-hand knowledge) that it is more difficult than most here seem to be assuming. A lot of people seem to just assume that this type of data is simply readily available or can be generated by sending out a mailing. It isn't. Both finding graduates and getting them to respond can be difficult. And the difficulty in getting them to respond increases the more you are asking them for.

So if you want to increase reporting requirements or base ranking on information gathered from alumni, how do you deal with this problem? Do you let schools report only what they know or do you penalize the school for not having complete data?

Equally important, how do you verify what the schools report? If it is the accrediting body asking (ABA), then reports are more likely to be reliable. If it is some other entity, then you may have issues. There is a reason that the vast majority of the data US News uses that they don't collect themselves is data that is already reported to the ABA. In fact, schools have been accused of gaming data that US News asks for that isn't also reported to the ABA.
posted by eviltwin at 2:52 PM on June 11, 2010


Aside from everything I've said in the comments so far, I often tell people not to go to law school, or at least I tell them that they need to be very sure that they want to be a lawyer and that they need to consider their potential debt levels very, very carefully.
posted by eviltwin at 2:53 PM on June 11, 2010


So if you want to increase reporting requirements or base ranking on information gathered from alumni, how do you deal with this problem? Do you let schools report only what they know or do you penalize the school for not having complete data?

First, I don't think it'll actually be much of a problem. I've suggested a half dozen ways to encourage a high response rate, none of which any schools or bar associations I know of are trying. And of course the schools should be able to get 100% participation from students regarding their summer jobs and whether they get a summer offer.

Second, the schools should publish only what they know plus their response rates and some aggregate data about responders and non-responders. For example, it's important to know if the people who aren't responding tend to have higher or lower class ranks than responders.

But, yes, schools that can't manage to get a decent response rate obviously aren't trying hard enough. With enough money offered to graduates in incentives and with enough cooperation from lenders, bar associations, and the ABA, schools should be able to get virtually 100% participation.
posted by jedicus at 3:01 PM on June 11, 2010


I really think the nation would be better off if half the people who went to law school went to engineering school instead...

So for pity's sake, don't go to law school. Go to engineering school instead.


There is no path from a humanities bachelor's to a grad-level engineering program that doesn't involve another trip through undergrad. Heck, drop an English Lit grad into a junior-level course like Signals & Systems or Thermodynamics and they're going to get shredded.

More importantly, humanities grads don't want an engineering education. They chose humanities because they don't like math-based, right-answer/wrong-answer, left-brain work. The people who thrive on that kind of problem struggle in grad school, it's not an environment where you can succeed if you've never seen a differential equation before.
posted by tylermoody at 3:11 PM on June 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


Both finding graduates and getting them to respond can be difficult. And the difficulty in getting them to respond increases the more you are asking them for.

Yes, but of course, facilitating that communication is a two way street, though, and the Career Services programs are in the best position to facilitate that communication. What I suspect is that that OCR/OCI programs who actively support and follow up with students, both employed and unemployed, probably have more success in gathering useful accurate statistics on alumni.

In all fairness, each program's mileage will vary. Some schools may have outstanding OCR/OCI career services programs with dedicated staff that that do exactly this, while others are underfunded and understaffed. I don't think any of us expect our OCR offices to find work for us, but it would be nice if they at least took an engaged interest in follow up. At the very least, it might diminish the perception amongst some recent graduates that we have been dumped into a crap job market while the school churns our more and more competition....er....graduates.

Also, I have anecdotally noticed that in this field renowned for being prestige-oriented, certain non-academic "soft factors" make some students more employable than others outside of their transcripts, class rankings, or abilities. A disproportionate number of attractive females at the bottom end of our graduating class seem to be more employable. Anecdotal example: A few of my former classmates and I were at a recent conference in our field of specialty. We're standing about in a group waiting for next session to begin, and we greet a former professor with many contacts in the field. Conversation immediately turns to the unemployment a couple of my very talented colleagues are facing due to impending layoffs (after all, these types of events are ideal networking opportunities for jobhunters), and the prof suddenly spots someone deemed much more important and dismissively splits on us in a comic Wile E. Coyote stylee. Next break, we are joined by a highly attractive, young, newly unemployed graduate, and said prof walks over, engages us, and is suddenly a one man career force, proclaiming that we all must find this poor out of work girl a JOB!; by the end of the day, she has three new contacts for employment. Aforementioned talented jobseeking colleagues are aghast.

I'm sure this happens in every profession, and I love practicing law, but I swear, there are days the law business seems more like prostitution than I care to admit what with the billable hours and emphasis on our "papers" and the pimplike structure of partner/associate relationships and the implicit advantages those with TV lawyer looks seem to have over those of us with real-world lawyer looks.
posted by Dr. Zira at 3:54 PM on June 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


But, yes, schools that can't manage to get a decent response rate obviously aren't trying hard enough. With enough money offered to graduates in incentives and with enough cooperation from lenders, bar associations, and the ABA, schools should be able to get virtually 100% participation.

Yes, with enough effort, resources and cooperation, rates should push pretty close to 100%. I think the second sentence is absolutely correct.

But we don't have any of the things in the qualifying phrase that opens the sentence, so I tend to automatically recoil at some of these suggestions when they are only posed as law schools should do X.

Resources: To everyone but the really well off law schools, this is a significant resource issue. Where is the money going to come from? You mention "enough money offered as incentives." Should law schools increase tuition further? Even lesser data gathering and reporting requirements than have been mentioned in this thread would require most schools to hire additional people or hire outside data and survey firms. For most schools, that would mean having to make serious cuts somewhere else or raising tuition. Both would have negative impacts on students. Additionally, like many proposed reforms, it would likely lead to the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer which in turn will make a profession that carries significant power even more elite and difficult to enter. Admittedly, this specific reform is smaller potatoes than some with regard to this effect, but it would contribute to the effect.

Cooperation: Yes, it would help, but there is next to zero cooperation now. This is another reason I react against many proposals like these that only say law schools should do X. Take as an example, A couple of years ago, the ABA instituted significant bar passage requirements for law school accreditation. I want go into how laughable and clueless the first proposed implementation was, but it strikes fear in me with respect to how good and worthy ideas can be turned into horrible proposals. The final standards ended up being fairly well crafted, but it was looking like a close call for a while. These new standards require certain levels of bar passage over three to five years and require reporting of bar passage rates, by state, for each year. Now you would think this would be relatively easy data to acquire. The state bar associations who administer the bar exams can just send a report to each law school telling the how their graduates did and then the law schools can collate the data and voila it's done. Do you think that happened? Nope. Most of the state bars I'm familiar with refuse to share that information with schools, and I don't know of a single one who said, "Oh it would be helpful if schools reported more data to students and oh yeah, the ABA requires them to report the data, so we should give that data that we have to schools." Not a single one.

Right now, the ABA is undertaking a HUGE revision of its standards for accreditation. Major changes. Schools are already under the thumb of state bars who say "THIS, the bar examination, is the measure of whether someone is qualified to practice law in our state." The ABA is explicitly addressing the same basic question with its standards and the proposed revisions - are schools adequately preparing their students to practice law. So do you think the two measures are similar? Do you think the ABA and state bars are cooperating and working together? Nope and no way.

Shockingly, lenders are the only ones with which we may see some progress. A year ago, it would have been the exact opposite. Lenders have the most obvious incentive not to make this information available to schools. They don't want to discourage people from taking on this debt, so they wouldn't want to help publicize the highly problematic debt loads of most law school graduates. However, now that the federal government has largely gotten rid of the ridiculous money-printing scam that was the middlemen making federally guaranteed loans we might have a entity with something other than a profit motive, and thus someone with useful data who might be willing to share it.

So, no real question about whether it should be done, but there are lots of questions about how to accomplish it.

As a bit of an aside: Yes, law schools obviously have an incentive to take advantage of the problems associated with easy loans and the often false lure of high paying jobs. But law schools are also, at least partly, by the only people in all this who are close to the students (other than the students themselves). For most of us, our own success really is measured by whether our students succeed after they leave us. I don't know whether that is true at schools where all that matters at the faculty level is scholarly renown, and I do doubt that it is true with respect to some for-profit law schools. However, I think it is true at a lot of schools and I think that students and graduates often underestimate this.
posted by eviltwin at 4:05 PM on June 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


To everyone but the really well off law schools, this is a significant resource issue. Where is the money going to come from?

No, it might be a resource issue, but right now we have no way of knowing because the schools aren't even trying. I suggested a guaranteed $5 gift card a chance at a $1000 prize for filling out a two question survey (three if you want to split hairs about it). If a school can't find approximately $2500 for survey incentives, then it's got bigger problems.

And like I said, schools could get data on first and second summer employment and end-of-second-summer offers for free by simply mandating that students fill out the surveys.

Even lesser data gathering and reporting requirements than have been mentioned in this thread would require most schools to hire additional people or hire outside data and survey firms.

I'm proposing a dead simple bit of data gathering. A 1-10 scale question, a salary question, and a debt question. This would not be expensive, nor would the analysis. There are several cheap, effective online survey firms that can do this kind of thing very well and inexpensively if the law schools don't want to design a simple web form themselves. I think you're significantly overestimating how costly it would be to conduct this kind of research.

If the state bars aren't cooperating, well, that's terrible. They're only shooting themselves in the foot in the long run. It's in the interest of the bar to ensure a steady stream of qualified applicants who actually want to be lawyers, as opposed to a deluge of applicants from crappy schools and who just sort of defaulted into law.
posted by jedicus at 4:24 PM on June 11, 2010


Most of the state bars I'm familiar with refuse to share that information with schools, and I don't know of a single one who said, "Oh it would be helpful if schools reported more data to students and oh yeah, the ABA requires them to report the data, so we should give that data that we have to schools." Not a single one.

This is a shame, because for schools with high bar passage rates, it could be a huge marketing tool. Our state's bar association publishes the passage rates by breaking them down by first time takers and repeat takers and by the state's law school programs and out-of-state takers, which is subsequently touted by the schools who can claim high passage rates. Of course, this is its own little scam, since there is no data on how many of those students who passed and failed did or did not take BarBri. But the schools are happy to take credit and after all - they did lend their classroom spaces in the evenings to BarBri, so we can't say our law schools never prepped us for the bar exam.
posted by Dr. Zira at 4:34 PM on June 11, 2010


"We're the new priesthood, baby, we're coming out!"
posted by bwg at 4:41 PM on June 11, 2010


eviltwin- I initially labeled you as an industry apologist, particularly since you just registered today and posted only in this thread. But I've revised my opinion after reading your later posts, which clearly demonstrate that you've thought through the technicalities with far more rigor than I have. There aren't any good answers once the gravy train has been flowing for this long, and the people who got in at the wrong time are just up the creek. Perhaps the best we can hope for is to return student loans to being dischargable in bankruptcy, although that's only throwing the burden on the taxpayer while the variously middlemen make out like bandits. But really, what's one more bailout before the hyperinflation kicks in?

I freely admit that most of my feelings on the situation are more reactionary than nuanced or productive, but thanks for registering and adding to the discussion.
posted by T.D. Strange at 5:24 PM on June 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Actually, the ABA is not governed by anti-trust laws. Indeed, state bar associations are essentially state-sanctioned cartels. If a state bar or the ABA wants to restrict the number of new lawyers, no one can say boo.

What's surprising is how badly they suck at being a cartel. Everyone would be better off if they did their jobs better.
posted by valkyryn at 5:28 PM on June 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


No, it might be a resource issue, but right now we have no way of knowing because the schools aren't even trying. I suggested a guaranteed $5 gift card a chance at a $1000 prize for filling out a two question survey (three if you want to split hairs about it). If a school can't find approximately $2500 for survey incentives, then it's got bigger problems.

...

I'm proposing a dead simple bit of data gathering. A 1-10 scale question, a salary question, and a debt question. This would not be expensive, nor would the analysis. There are several cheap, effective online survey firms that can do this kind of thing very well and inexpensively if the law schools don't want to design a simple web form themselves. I think you're significantly overestimating how costly it would be to conduct this kind of research.


Yes that would work and would cost that little (particularly using something like SurveyMonkey), if you are satisfied with 70-85% return. Because that is what you would get. I'm trying to avoid saying "been there, done that," but ... been there, done that and I work with people who've been there and done that a lot.

If you had good contact information (current address or email) for all graduates, it might be towards the higher end and might be even higher, but you have to exert considerable effort (and the accompanying expense) to get those addresses. Yes, it would be easy to get these three data points for 75% of the graduates, but increasing that return rate becomes ever more difficult for each step higher than that - both in terms of finding graduates and then eliciting a response.

Now I don't think it'd be a problem if schools could just report the results and say something like 75% of graduates responding. Of course, this would likely mean schools would make little effort since the successful graduates are more likely to be easier to track down.

If it was something that was going to be made mandatory, I'm pretty sure schools would demand that it was a lot more accurate than a one time, three question survey, but that doesn't really go directly to your point that schools could do a three question survey.

By the way, some of the ABA outcome measure proposals do take the sort of directions you are pushing for. You may end up seeing more of this sort of thing.

And like I said, schools could get data on first and second summer employment and end-of-second-summer offers for free by simply mandating that students fill out the surveys.

This hiring pattern/career path you seem to assume applies to all law students doesn't. It only applies to a subset of students, large at some schools, small at others. Now if we make it more flexible such that it reports how many students got summer jobs in firms, how many got internships with judges, how many got internships in government offices, etc, it might be a more useful measure. But employment data is notoriously fertile ground for gaming. And I mean, really notorious. Not to mention that you might get unexpected consequences such as schools requiring that students do something during the summer. You'd just have to stick it in the curriculum as an externship/internship requirement or something. Of course, that might be a good thing for the students' education, but it would obscure the information you are looking for.


If the state bars aren't cooperating, well, that's terrible. They're only shooting themselves in the foot in the long run. It's in the interest of the bar to ensure a steady stream of qualified applicants who actually want to be lawyers, as opposed to a deluge of applicants from crappy schools and who just sort of defaulted into law.

Who knows why they don't? I don't think it is necessarily a safe assumption to say they are "acting in the interest of the bar" or even that they would define it in the same way we would. Maybe they think their bar exam is sufficient guarantee. Maybe those that lead the bar know they only get the top students anyway so don't care about the rest. Why would they (the powerful attorneys who run the bar associations) be concerned if they have to face a less than qualified lawyer on the other side of the table? Maybe it is just that this sort of thing is too minor in the big picture of things they are concerned with for them to make sure they are informed about it. Maybe they just think, the bar exam was good enough for me, so it is good enough to guarantee future lawyers are qualified so why do I need to worry about what law schools are doing or need from me.

a deluge of applicants from crappy schools

I'm going to take a bit of issue with this phrase. Which are the "crappy schools"? Can you show me any measure or study that has been done of the quality of the legal education that law schools provide? i work in the area and I've never seen it. The US News rankings purport to measure this, but they don't. The only criteria that even attempt such a measure are the two reputational scores, but they are really a joke if the purpose is measuring the quality of the education provided by law schools They really don't even try. They measure what is easy to measure so they can get on with selling their publication and making money. So how do you know which schools are crappy? How many schools' programs of legal education do you have experience with so as to be able to make such a judgment?

(Of course, variations on surveying graduates would be better measures but they would have to be pretty extensive to have any usefulness and would have to focus on factors other than employment which really isn't that a good measure of the quality of a school's program of legal education.)

What's ironic is that when I see legal education discussed online I frequently see people dumping on new or lower ranked schools in one breadth and then turn around in the next breadth and complain about what they were and were not taught in law school (too much theory, too many obscure areas, not enough practical skills and knowledge relating to actually practicing law, etc). It's ironic because most of the schools who are serious about curricular reform that these people seem to be clamoring for are the same new or lower ranked schools that they dump on just because they are new or lower ranked. Not to mention the fact that the very same people who when faced with poor performance in a closed system of limited players would say the answer is more players and more competition!
posted by eviltwin at 5:32 PM on June 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


If you had good contact information (current address or email) for all graduates, it might be towards the higher end and might be even higher, but you have to exert considerable effort (and the accompanying expense) to get those addresses.

See, again, here's an area where a lot of schools aren't even trying. My law school kills your email address after a year, which is apparently a very common practice. They're killing an easy way to maintain contact with their own alumni!

Now if we make it more flexible such that it reports how many students got summer jobs in firms, how many got internships with judges, how many got internships in government offices, etc, it might be a more useful measure.

Of course by "summer jobs" I meant all summer jobs, not just firm jobs.

I'm going to take a bit of issue with this phrase. Which are the "crappy schools"? Can you show me any measure or study that has been done of the quality of the legal education that law schools provide? i work in the area and I've never seen it.

I don't need a study to say that basic statistics suggests that in a pool of 193 ABA accredited schools there's going to be a tail of schools that are pretty bad, particularly given what we know about the law school applicant pool (i.e., that there are a lot of people who went to low-end undergraduate schools, got bad grades even there, and did poorly on the LSAT).

So, no, I didn't say which schools are bad (you'll notice I didn't say "low-ranked" or "bottom tier") because I don't know. But I don't have to know which schools in particular are low quality to know that they exist and that they are churning out far more graduates than the market can support.
posted by jedicus at 5:40 PM on June 11, 2010


Actually, the ABA is not governed by anti-trust laws. Indeed, state bar associations are essentially state-sanctioned cartels. If a state bar or the ABA wants to restrict the number of new lawyers, no one can say boo.

What's surprising is how badly they suck at being a cartel. Everyone would be better off if they did their jobs better.


First, the ABA and state bar associations are two distinctly different types of creatures.

Second, you statement that the ABA is not governed by anti-trust laws is just flat wrong.

Any time the ABA thinks about denying accreditation to a law school, the law school (or its alumni) think about suing the ABA for anti-trust violations. That's one of the reasons why I find it so humorous when people online say "the ABA should limit the number of law schools so that we have less lawyers so it will create better employment situations for those of us who are already lawyers." Uh, they can't do that, or at least if they do, they'd better make sure no one can prove that's what they did!
posted by eviltwin at 5:42 PM on June 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


I don't need a study to say that basic statistics suggests that in a pool of 193 ABA accredited schools there's going to be a tail of schools that are pretty bad, particularly given what we know about the law school applicant pool (i.e., that there are a lot of people who went to low-end undergraduate schools, got bad grades even there, and did poorly on the LSAT).

So, no, I didn't say which schools are bad (you'll notice I didn't say "low-ranked" or "bottom tier") because I don't know. But I don't have to know which schools in particular are low quality to know that they exist and that they are churning out far more graduates than the market can support.


First:

You seem to be conflating measures of law school applicants with measures of law schools. Just because a school admits students in a certain qualification range (LSAT+GPA) has nothing to do with the quality of the legal education. And that works both ways. Schools that admit highly qualified students may do a crappy job of educating their students and schools that admit lowly qualified students may do a great job.

Second:

So you might say, well, those schools that admit the lower qualified students turn out, regardless of the quality of education they provide, lower qualified attorneys. But there's little to no evidence to support that either. LSAT scores correlate very loosely with law school grades; law school grades do correlate in some ranges with bar exam success; and finally the bar exam is a pretty crappy measure of qualification to practice law. That's it. I've done fairly data intensive studies on the first two, and I don't know anyone who thinks the bar exam is a good measure of either qualification to practice law or of whether the individual will succeed as a lawyer. The bar exam is a measure of qualification, but it is a poor one at best. What it is is a cheap and easy measure to administer and a tool for regulating the number of new attorneys.

In fact, the only study I know of that has tried to measure directly any relationship between LSAT scores and whether someone would be a good/successful lawyer found that there was no correlation.

GPA has more potential in theory but is very problematic in practice.

I'm not even going to touch "low-end (crappy!) undergraduate schools" because then we'd really be going around in circles.

What this boils down to is that you may also be conflating low qualifying students with unqualified or poor attorneys. I'm not convinced there is as much of a relationship there as you seem to think there is. I know plenty of very low qualifying students who have gone on to be very good, very successful attorneys, and I've known the opposite as well.


they are churning out far more graduates than the market can support

So you are saying law schools or someone who regulates law schools should restrict the number of new attorneys based on what the market can support? So we should tell someone "no, you cannot go to law school even though you could be a good lawyer because we need to keep the supply of lawyers down?" "You've really want to be a lawyer? Well, I'm sorry, we need to protect the jobs and income levels of the people who are already lawyers." "No, we're not even going to let you try even though people with your same qualifications have gone on to be great attorneys before."

Wow. Just wow.

That is the effect of what you are saying even if it is not what you meant (perhaps you were assuming that these people were unqualified to go to law school (but it is not a valid assumption)). This attitude (the one absent your potential assumption) never ceases to stupefy me.


I don't have to know which schools in particular are low quality to know that they exist

How do you know that they exist? There's no mandated curve for the quality of law schools. It is not written in stone that if you have X number of law schools that a certain subset have to be crappy. It's a not a law of nature. Some could be better than others, but that doesn't mean they couldn't all be good. The ABA requirements and accreditation process are actually pretty rigorous (one of the reasons law school is so expensive). Maybe the ABA requirements work.
posted by eviltwin at 6:35 PM on June 11, 2010


OK, between this and the World Cup games, I've gotten very little work done today! I've enjoyed discussing this with you and will certainly take with me some good points from what you guys have said (even if I strongly disagree with other things). Thanks, but I'm out for now!
posted by eviltwin at 6:39 PM on June 11, 2010


So you are saying law schools or someone who regulates law schools should restrict the number of new attorneys based on what the market can support? So we should tell someone "no, you cannot go to law school even though you could be a good lawyer because we need to keep the supply of lawyers down?" "You've really want to be a lawyer? Well, I'm sorry, we need to protect the jobs and income levels of the people who are already lawyers." "No, we're not even going to let you try even though people with your same qualifications have gone on to be great attorneys before."

Nope, I'm saying "Law schools lie to potential applicants about the economic realities of debt and post-graduate income levels. Therefore, we should restrict the number of law school graduates we turn out because very large numbers of people are coming out of law school sorely regretting it. As long as we're restricting the number of law school graduates, it might be a good idea to start with the folks who come out of it regretting it the most and most frequently. This is done on the theory that if there is a better supply/demand ratio then more graduates will be happy with their jobs and able to command salaries that support the debt they took on."

Which is precisely why my two proposed outcome measures are job satisfaction and debt/income ratio.
posted by jedicus at 7:00 PM on June 11, 2010


What needs to happen immediately is allowing education debt to be dischargeable in bankruptcy. The whole system needs to be torn down and rebuilt in a completely different, and honest, form.

170 comments in, and it looks like this hasn't been addressed. Allowing student loans to be dischargable in debt will make sense only after courts can auction your brain to the highest bidder. Offering huge amounts of unsecured credit to teenagers is insanity, but educating them is brilliant, and this provision addresses that.

Perhaps as a compromise, we make education free in the US.
posted by pwnguin at 9:49 PM on June 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Some excellent bitter writing.
posted by telstar at 12:30 AM on June 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


I went to a US top 10 law school and I want to endorse:

(1) The idea that "thinking like a lawyer" isn't magical and takes a semeseter or a year to do.
(2) The idea that the 2nd and 3rd years of law school do not affect one's lawyering ability.
(3) The idea that first year attorneys generally can't law their way out of a paper bag.

I would also like to suggest:

(4) The field of "legal academics", ie, law professors, is mostly total bullshit.
posted by Father Tiresias at 1:35 AM on June 12, 2010


Fr. Tiresias, I respectfully disagree with (4). I have known (and studied with) some brilliant legal academics. People who were/are excellent thinkers and writing / teaching about interesting concepts highly relevant to the ethos of the system and metaprofession.

Nonetheless, one can be a very fine practising attorney in the US without exposure to legal academics. Even so, I don't think it's a fatal deficiency of legal education that it exposes future lawyers to upper-level law classes that have little or no practical use. I think it's a critical deficiency of the legal education system that there's no alternative, like: you take your first year classes, then you apprentice, then you are certified to sit for the Bar. (I also disagree that clinical classes are a fraud on the students, taking tuition from them so they can provide legal services. I think clinical classes are the best part of the end of law school and should be mandatory).

Where I think US law schools are scandalous cheats, liars and morally bankrupt is in their failure to honestly disclose the employment rates of their graduates, failure to honestly explain the realities of working as a lawyer, failure to control costs and tuition for their students (given the realities of lawyers' salaries).

I also blame law schools for the failures of society to provide adequate legal services not merely to the the poor and to the accused, but also to the middle class, who need simple rote legal services. This is, in part, related to the costs/tuition issue. However, it's also related to the pedagogy. I went to a very highly ranked Jesuit institution and my Con Law professor (a famous, well-respected scholar, in addition to having once been a famous well-respected public servant until the Pope told him to choose one or the other) was one of only two professors I had there who asked us to consider our roles as lawyers in society. Who demanded that we question why we were in law school and what the net gain or loss to the world and to humanity would be by our work. He pressed us to consider whether that was even a legitimate question (clearly, I think it was). My ethics professor never even asked us to consider whether we had a duty to do pro bono work once we were licensed to practice.

The profession is in bad shape, but it's not just because we have too many law schools, turning out too many new lawyers without practical skills.
posted by crush-onastick at 8:29 AM on June 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think clinical classes are the best part of the end of law school and should be mandatory

I agree. Clinicals should be mandatory for 2Ls/3Ls as they're far more likely to teach the useful skills and solutions usually absent from most academic law classes, which in my experience--as a former law student and one who now hires student law clerks and new lawyers--typically cultivate a preening, goatee-stroking intellectuality and athletic zeal to be the first to spot even the most esoteric of issues no matter how utterly beside the point, at the cost of understanding Econ 101 basics and the real world needs of clients. I can't count how many document drafts I've returned to new lawyers covered in red ink because while their (passive-voiced, overly wordy and unnecessarily Victorian) issue spotting and effort might constitute a B+ law exam, they are coming from a different planet than the planet on which we will get summary judgment for this chain of dry cleaners.
posted by applemeat at 11:10 AM on June 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


I agree. Clinicals should be mandatory for 2Ls/3Ls as they're far more likely to teach the useful skills and solutions usually absent from most academic law classes

That might be fair if students didn't have to pay several thousand dollars for the privilege. As it stands now, though, it's a ridiculous state of affairs. I understand there is overhead associated with running a clinic, but if law schools really wanted to preach the virtues of public service then they should encourage donors to endow a clinical program and heavily discount the tuition cost to students.
posted by jedicus at 11:15 AM on June 12, 2010


I don't really have an issue with tuition paying for law clinics. The costs associated with running the clinics have to paid somehow and charging the clients they serve isn't going to cover it. I've been a student in a school legal clinic, as well as a pro bono attorney in a legal clinic and both a paid and volunteer attorney with non-school-based clinics which have law student interns. The costs associated with both types of clinics were more or less on par and when the time comes to fund the non-school-based clinics, development directors start with the attorneys who are already giving their time to the clinics.

Although I have a general issue with law school tuition, I don't think it's fundamentally unfair to charge tuition to students earning course credit for working with the law school clinic, particularly when the representation aspects are only part of the course. My student-clinical experience (and my experience as an attorney working for a student clinic) included a substantial academic portion, with course readings and class sessions which supplemented the legal practice.

We'll just have to agree that clinical courses should be a more fundamental part of legal education and disagree about who should bear the costs of running the clinics.
posted by crush-onastick at 12:23 PM on June 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


crush-onastick, thanks for your comment.

I absolutely do not disagree that many law professors are extremely intelligent. I am completely on-board with that.

All I mean to suggest is that their field is as irrelevant to real life as the Modern Culture and Media department at Brown, Literary Theory departments all over the world, Film Studies, Ancient anything,etc...

In other words, it's basically a giant circle jerk funded by the government.

And that's fine. I was a graduate student in Ancient X for a while (and did other things before going to law school). I love the fact that Ancient X exists. It's better for humanity. But it's not important and it's never going to be important except in the most attenuated sense.

There are a pantsload of really bright people in all of these fields. It's just that what they do is pretty useless, speaking practically over the short-term. I just wish law professors knew that too. Because lawyers and law professors tend to think they are So Smart and So Important. When in fact they are So Irrelevant.
posted by Father Tiresias at 6:46 PM on June 12, 2010


(The one exception is the law journal The Green Bag, which I encourage everyone to read. Humor conquers all.)
posted by Father Tiresias at 6:51 PM on June 12, 2010


Another problem is that the world of legal scholarship publication is gate-keeped by law students. That might be the dumbest thing ever. Most of the people controlling paper publication in the law scholarship world are kids who went right from college to law school and know nothing about anything.

Dude.
posted by Father Tiresias at 7:01 PM on June 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


All I mean to suggest is that their field is as irrelevant to real life as the Modern Culture and Media department at Brown, Literary Theory departments all over the world, Film Studies, Ancient anything,etc...

The world of law is an artificial one, to be sure, but class content can be very relevant to the practice of law at least. I'm a bit skeptical of people who consider law school entirely skill and theory based and not at all content. Some of the important precedents we studied are still being cited -- few, for me, but many more for my younger contemporaries. One young lawyer in my office came in surprisingly on top of our particular specialty -- it wasn't till a month or two went by that I found out she has a law school CAN (condensed annotated notes) that she refers to on the area, and it's more up to date than any text.

But again, I can't say how out of touch things are in the States. You don't have articles; you apparently don't have Bar courses (just the exam(s)). So maybe law school down south really isn't all that relevant to practice except in terms of theory. That's too bad. It's quite clear in my office that a couple of courses I neglected to take would have been very relevant, if I'd only had the foresight to realize where I'd end up.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 9:19 PM on June 12, 2010


Durn, I completely agree. I just think class content in the US (in my experience) doesn't do that.
posted by Father Tiresias at 9:28 PM on June 12, 2010


(which is to say there's Bentham, Posner, Lessig, and ........ who else)

I have left some people out but the field of law research/publishing thinks it is SO SO SO much more important than it is.

As an aside, lawyers tend to be terrible writers who think they are great writers.
posted by Father Tiresias at 9:36 PM on June 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


My post-bac Ed program is jammed sideways with Law refugees.
posted by toodleydoodley at 4:45 PM on June 13, 2010


Having read the whole thread, here are a few points that made me go hmm:

shen1138 -- I'll be in meetings with partners where they'll be handling 3 other matters on their blackberries, because you have to be immediately responsive to clients when you're billing at those rates. This means partners are working 12-14 hours a day, non-stop. This demand and their 24/7 availability justifies, partially, the increase in billable rates.

That's an argument for more billed hours, not a higher bill rate per hour, at least not for work completed in the traditional workday. The client with a need that can be met within traditional office hours with reasonable turnaround expectations is paying for the needs of those running around with their hair on fire, which is ridiculous. The increase in billable hours enabled by tech ought to be felt as just that, more hours billed by those needing it.

Upping the rate for work that must be done outside standard hours could make sense; upping the rate for work done inside standard hours because of other work outside standard hours is bizarre.

blucevalo -- Part of the reason that there are no longer any shows like "LA Law" (most of my friends from college who went on to the legal profession did so because they fantasized about working at McKenzie Brackman) or "Ally McBeal" or "Boston Legal" or "The Practice" developed for the TV networks (other than maybe "Damage"?) has got to be that there's just no way to make the profession look glamorous and sexy anymore.

The Good Wife premiered in September and is a top 20 hit and CBS renewed it for another season. The lawyer I married likes it. Maybe you would, too.

tylermoody -- humanities grads don't want an engineering education. They chose humanities because they don't like math-based, right-answer/wrong-answer, left-brain work.

Yeah, not so much. My degree is in English degree and I make a good living in database consulting, and in college I took the advanced calculus track of physics courses mostly for snicks. I certainly didn't have to take those math-intensive courses, but it was a good challenge.

Generalists and polymaths are out there in the working world. Let's just hope that they're not trying to become lawyers right now.
posted by NortonDC at 9:06 PM on June 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


Adding a late follow up to this thread for the future classes of 2012, 2013, 2014, and so on- St. Johns University School of Law Professor Brian Tamanaha calls for law professors to wake up to the growing numbers of disaffected graduates.
posted by T.D. Strange at 7:57 AM on June 15, 2010 [2 favorites]


Late comment...
Practicing attorney here. There is nothing magical about the law school classroom. I stopped going to classes after my first semester, unless attendance was required, which it mostly was not. I generally only showed up for the exam and studied by practically memorizing a commercial outline. I graduated with almost a 3.0 from a 2nd tier school. If accredited online law schools were available, I suspect I would have been fine and I would have saved about a hundred grand in loans.

You're bragging that you managed to make almost a 3.0 at a 2nd tier school without going to class? I don't see how that proves any point about law school at all.
posted by ishotjr at 11:50 AM on June 19, 2010 [4 favorites]


And this extraordinary development from Loyola, which is adding .333 to every transcript to keep their graduates competitive in a tight job market.

I find this utterly staggering. Really, this profession is fucked up--and law schools are the engine of the profession's decline. When there is such a surfeit of graduates and un/underemployed attorneys that a law school implements a policy of retroactively boosting the grades of their admittedly less than attractive scions (think poor Loyola 3L from a couple of years ago), it's time to disband the institution and give students and alumni their money back.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 6:56 PM on June 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


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