Most Read
    Image 01 Image 02 Image 03

    Go to law school only if …

    Go to law school only if …

    I don’t talk much about law schools here.   I try not to bring work home, so to speak.

    But this article at The New York Times, Law School Economics: Ka-Ching!, is generating a lot of buzz:

    WITH apologies to show business, there’s no business like the business of law school.

    The basic rules of a market economy — even golden oldies, like a link between supply and demand — just don’t apply.

    Legal diplomas have such allure that law schools have been able to jack up tuition four times faster than the soaring cost of college. And many law schools have added students to their incoming classes — a step that, for them, means almost pure profits — even during the worst recession in the legal profession’s history.

    The article focuses on New York Law School (not NYU Law School), a lower tier school which manages to charge more than my alma mater, Harvard Law School, and has no trouble filling its enrollment and then some.

    The law school market has the makings of a bubble, as Prol. Glenn Reynolds repeatedly points out, particularly at lower tier schools.  What is good for law schools is not necessarily good for law students, who often graduate with substantial debt and dim job prospects. 

    It all is made possible by easy money in the form of government student loans and easy private loans on top of that.  It is not unusual for a law student to graduate with over $100k in debt.

    Sound familiar?  Can you say housing bubble?

    Is law school worth it?  Depends on what you are looking for.  If you are looking for a high paying job handed to you on a silver platter, then the list of schools which will give you that return is relatively small, and getting smaller.

    It may sound trite, but you should go to law school only if you really want to be a lawyer. 

    Law school as a default option because you have nothing else to do only is an economically viable option for the wealthy who can afford it, the poor who will get mostly a free ride, and those in the middle who get merit scholarships.

    Even then, there are no guarantees.  As in many things, credentials will only get you so far. 

    Some of the best and most successful lawyers I have met did not go to top law schools, and almost none of them had expectations that anything would be handed to them on a silver  platter or otherwise. 

    For most people, law school should be for those who want to be lawyers.  The concept isn’t brain surgery.


    Donations tax deductible
    to the full extent allowed by law.


    ashton | July 17, 2011 at 11:16 am

    I’m interested in legal philosophy/jurisprudence and political philosophy; not necessarily practicing law. Should I try for law school or get my masters in philosophy and eventually toward earning a doctorate? Of course easier said than done. I say masters because my philosophy department isn’t a strong one.

      If you’re not interested in practicing law, go for the philosophical masters & doctorate degrees. A JD only goes so far, and then there’s the LLM (Library of Laws Masters Degree) and the LLD (Library of Laws Doctorate) to get to the same level you’ll be at with a PhD in Philosophy for roughly the same outcome. Law school will teach you to think in a different manner than any other education, but for what you want to do, it fits acceptably, but not great.

    Donald Douglas | July 17, 2011 at 11:40 am

    I sometimes wish I’d gone to law school. It’s interesting. And aren’t some folks saying a law degree is the new liberal arts degree? The same principle of hard work applies no matter what education one gets. I advise my political science students to think about law school as an all purpose option. Business, politics, law … it, well, liberal in the liberal arts sense.

    redc1c4 | July 17, 2011 at 12:12 pm

    here in the People’s Republic, lawyers who have passed the bar are w*rking as interns for free to bet the all important “experience”, while the firms bill their hours at full rate…

    unsurprisingly, this has made the market for paralegals and others somewhat sparse.

    fortunately, now that Jerry Brown is in charge, this will all change.

    DINORightMarie | July 17, 2011 at 1:36 pm

    Warning – long post ahead….. 😀

    It is interesting that you commented on this, and that the NYT is writing about such a leftist sacred cow. As a mom with children nearing graduation, I have been looking at LSATs and law school – something I was considering as a second career myself one day.

    Besides the obvious logic of your statement, “It may sound trite, but you should go to law school only if you really want to be a lawyer.”, I’ve often wondered why so many people are getting into law schools, and what the job outlook is today.

    I talk to a LOT of parents who say their child has gone on to grad school or law school because they couldn’t get a job that will pay enough to cover their loan payment; the “kids” figure after they get the higher degree, they will be more “marketable” and also hope the job market will be better when they get out. At HUGE costs. Exorbitant debt.

    After talking to lawyers in our area, I realized that there was a recession for lawyers, more than just a reflection of the poor job market these days. It seems, from what I gleaned, that there are too many law degree grads (supply) for the lawyer slots available (demand). Thus, a lot of newly graduated and BAR-certified lawyers are working as clerks, paralegals, etc., and are in debt so deep they don’t see a way out.

    That is true of course of the entire college/education bubble, to perhaps a lesser degree. The costs for tuition at even the average state college or university are so high that even top graduates get jobs where they can barely make loan payments. Living at home is often chosen because of these high loan payments. They don’t have enough money to pay for rent, a car payment, utilities, food, etc. No real independence gained, for all their studying and time spent. No wages earned, typically, either. Not the path to the American dream.

    It is no longer true that a bachelor’s degree guarantees a job, let alone a high-wage job. The ROI or cost/benefit is just not in favor of pursuing the degree; in today’s job market, that is even more true than ever.

    I used to blame the colleges for this, since college costs have gone up more than 4 times the rate of inflation – and, as you note, for law schools that trend is even worse. I now know that the government sticking their nose into education is the real problem, as they have pushed higher education and “financial aid” via student loans (the source of most money loaned is the government, and now the student loan industry is OWNED by the federal government).

    Also, the federal government is the provider of most grant monies for research at colleges and universities (e.g. National Science Foundation exists ONLY to grant money for research, typically to universities).

    These two things combined have made colleges greedy. They are able to get “easy money” to fund new buildings, upgrades, improvements, expansions; and these “improvements” are often excuses for which they ALSO increase tuition and fees to re-coup. Tenured professors who get the most grant money are quite a commodity on campuses for this reason. They help the college’s bottom line. A rather vicious cycle.

    If the free-enterprise, competitive process was allowed to work as it should (as it did in the past), without government intervention, this bubble would no longer exist. Since it’s grown so huge, it will be a hard fall for a while, but is fixable without a crash if something is done soon, IMHO.

    The college application process is another giant money sucking machine, primed by the push that you MUST get a college degree (all public schools and most parents feed this to their children from elementary school).

    As you probably have experienced, once a child approaching college entry takes the SATs, the inundation of application requests begins. Like non-profits hoping to get 1 hit to every X number of letters sent out, they hope that the letters will entice students to apply – whether they are qualified or not to be accepted (granted, they usually send more out to higher SAT-scoring students, but the flood happens regardless). Each application fee is anywhere from $30 – $80+ – non-refundable. So for each application, they make money. Lots of money.

    Typically, universities and colleges receive many more applications than their freshman class can accept – often 100+ for each opening. Some have as many as 1000 applications for each slot.

    That is a chunk of money, just so they can say, “Hmmm…..SAT scores, GPA, class rank – REJECT!” to 90% of the apps. The rest is gravy. That’s a real racket.

    The university system in the US is good, but the massive costs, uncertain ROI, and the money-sucking machine that it has become are making many re-think the baby-boomer belief, “You MUST go to college or you’ll NEVER get a good paying job!”

    There are books written about this recently, and several great articles, as well. Glad you brought this one to light!! I would never have known, as I don’t read the NYT – the fishwrap of record, as Michelle Malkin calls it. 😉

      Voyager in reply to DINORightMarie. | July 17, 2011 at 1:56 pm

      I recommend Engineering and Computer Science. Engineers basically build things. A lot of people get scared off by the math, but if you are good at writing you can do pretty well in the field. A huge fraction of engineering is actually documenting and writing up what you’re proposing, and most engineer write worse than I do.

      If you can speak engineer, and write well, you can be really handy.

      Awing1 in reply to DINORightMarie. | July 17, 2011 at 3:08 pm

      Funding for science from the government has been around for a LONG LONG time, it’s even specifically mentioned in the constitution as a job of the government, when was the free market ever the exclusive funding source for science? I agree that student loans probably aren’t the right place for government, but research grants are exactly where government belongs.

        DINORightMarie in reply to Awing1. | July 17, 2011 at 4:20 pm

        Have you ever seen what the NSF grants are for? The projects that are given millions for “science research”? Believe me, shrimp on treadmills is neither fictitious nor the worst waste in the name of “science research”.

        My husband used to be a subcontractor for NSF, here in Arlington, VA. He worked on the system interface for grant proposals; thus, he often saw the real proposal data. Believe me, there is more waste in these government grant programs than you would believe.

        Along the lines of ACORN getting money. Or National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) money for paintings of Jesus with poop smeared on it. It is crazy.

        Things that would never fly as real science research are submitted and granted all the time. Look up the NSF public grant information and you’ll see some of the insane projects that pass for science research (I’ll look up a link and post if I can find it).

        I agree, true science research should get grants, things that are going to help society like with medicine, energy, and so on. However, the waste and fraud is out of control right now. The NSF is in need of complete overhall, a reorganization.

        Of course there is also the duplication of effort in the different bureaus and agencies. DoE and EPA duplicate research and offer grants that NSF often grants to identical or similar projects. You see, the more money you can get from the various bureaus, the better you are at helping out the bottom line at the university. Or non-profit. Or whatever.

        It’s out of control.

        DINORightMarie in reply to Awing1. | July 17, 2011 at 4:58 pm

        Here are some links from the NSF grants page:

        This is their search page. First, I searched for shrimp . Note the Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison grant 0937847: $2 million for imaging systems equipment. Granted in 2009.

        Then I searched for penguins . Note the project 0733024: $1.6 million to Ohio State for teaching K5 students about the Arctic/Antarctic.

        This is just my cursory look. Try searching yourself. Look where the grants are going. Search by university. Search for amounts. Quite enlightening.

        I think these could be cut easily, or at least cut down drastically.

          Awing1 in reply to DINORightMarie. | July 17, 2011 at 5:59 pm

          I think that’s a reasonable stance, that art and science should be supported by the government, but only art that appeals to the broader society (I’m thinking the statues in D.C.) and science that has some tangible application or grander purpose than just “eh, we were curious”.

          I see plenty of room for cutting in our government’s budget (NPR for one, and I listen to it fairly regularly), but we need to attack those wasteful, useless and offensive programs, not the broader concept of government funding for the arts and sciences.

    Back in the 80’s we were told that by now we would all be lawyers by now, so forget about the cost, forget about your future prospects for employment. Your future is set in stone. Accept it.

    Leave a Comment

    Leave a Reply

    You must be logged in to post a comment.

    Notify me of followup comments via e-mail (or subscribe without commenting.)

    Font Resize
    Contrast Mode
    Send this to a friend