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    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.


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    Awing1 | July 17, 2011 at 2:28 pm

    I’ve talked to a few students who, like me, will be entering law school next year, and a fair number of them (perhaps even a majority) really do just think they’ll get a high paying job handed to them after law school. Now, I guess I can’t speak with certainty, but I can’t imagine going into such a demanding profession as the law without having a certain passion for it. I definitely can’t imagine taking out the kind of student loans I will be taking (I wish it was only $100,000 for 3 years) unless I knew this is precisely what I wanted to do with my life. While I’m a little less afraid for the students I’ve met entering Cornell, some of these guys and girls (primarily philosophy majors, don’t ask me why) are clearly in for a rude awakening.
    I think rolling back government sponsored student loans is probably the best solution. These kids may not be in a good position to decide whats best for their future, but you can be darn sure a bank or individual loaning them money would be. There’s certainly a role for the government helping out the truly underprivileged student who wants to go to college and can accomplish something if they do, but that role is very very limited.

      VetHusbandFather in reply to Awing1. | July 18, 2011 at 9:29 am

      Great point, my ability to pay off student loans played a huge role in deciding where I went to school and what I majored in. I was in that gap where my parents made too much for me to receive any significant grants or loans and too little for them to pay for my education outright. When you know that you are going to be paying for your own education, you really try to make sure you will get a good ROI.

    WarEagle82 | July 17, 2011 at 2:29 pm

    Law schools exist to make Marxists. The majority of lawyers I know personally are rabid Marxists. Why anyone would dig themselves in debt this deeply while proclaiming Marxist slogans at the top of their lungs is proof you don’t have to be crazy to be a lawyer but it helps.

      Awing1 in reply to WarEagle82. | July 17, 2011 at 3:53 pm

      Considering Havard’s law school was founded before Karl Marx was born, I sense a serious flaw in your reasoning.

        Stop being a JERK Awing1.

        A.) Political philosophy can be INTRODUCED over time. Just because the attendees at Harvard Law may not have STARTED OUT as Marxists, doesn’t mean that they aren’t mostly of a Marxist bent NOW.

        B.) Just because the philosophy is now named after Marx doesn’t mean that similar philosophies existed PRIOR TO Marx. Marx just happens to be most famous for proclaiming them and putting them to paper. Marx’s ideas were around for a LONG, LONG time prior to Marx’s espousal of them; Marx just happened to make them elegant and verbally efficient for the masses to mindlessly repeat.

          DINORightMarie in reply to Chuck Skinner. | July 17, 2011 at 5:02 pm

          As our esteemed Professor Jacobson is an alumnus of Harvard Law, I wonder what his take is?

          Awing1 in reply to Chuck Skinner. | July 17, 2011 at 5:41 pm

          This individual made the claim that law schools exist to make Marxists. Not “some law schools” or even “most law schools” or “law schools now” just simply “law schools”. If the reason every law school exists didn’t occur until after one of those law schools was created, a logical conundrum is the result. And even if it was the case that every lawyer was to come out of law school these days a Marxist, it would hardly say anything towards the reason for a law school’s existence. While point two is well taken, it does not apply to a theory like Marxism because it is defined by the person who created it, in this case Karl Marx. The “similar philosophy” one would be looking for is socialism.
          For the record, I’d rather be a jerk than a raving idiot.

            WarEagle82 in reply to Awing1. | July 17, 2011 at 7:06 pm

            “For the record, I’d rather be a jerk than a raving idiot.”

            After viewing only a few of your posts, it is entirely evident that you have achieved both…

            Awing1 in reply to Awing1. | July 17, 2011 at 7:22 pm

            Ok Mr. “We don’t spend a percentage of our GDP” even though that’s how nearly everyone (including the prestigious conservative think tank ‘The Heritage Foundation’ measures government spending. Can you point to a single time when I’ve stated something factually errant that wasn’t immediately corrected by myself?

    As of Sept. 26, 2007, more than 70% of the world’s lawyers were licensed in the US accounting for more than 90% of all of the world’s litigation. That’s 1,148,358 lawyers.

    There’s a fictitious but historically accurate tourist attraction west of Boston called Sturbridge Village which I highly recommend. Its purpose is to recreate life in the US in 1832 and comprises of buildings and equipment of that era which were mostly saved from demolition by relocating them there. It is also staffed by people who adopt a character like cooper, blacksmith, miller, or other trade and actually work in character.

    About 25 years ago, I was visiting and noticed that right next to some shop there was a law office and so I asked the shop keeper if a lawyer could make a living in such a small town, in character she replied: “There isn’t enough work to keep one lawyer busy but far too much for two.”

    I believe we could eliminate most of the frivolous litigation that so inflate our cost of living if we were to apply a societal “needs” test to granting government scholarships and subsidies. Too much legal work in this country is contrived to keep ambulance chasers busy.

    dmacleo | July 17, 2011 at 4:12 pm

    its an odd issue, lawyers write the laws we are supposed to follow, they argue them in courts, they are the ones who win/lose the fights against the laws their own ilk have created.
    its gotten out of hand honestly and the good ones get bad raps cause of it.
    I deal with one in area that specializes in worker comp law, that itself is a whole 10th level of hell of stuff written (by lawyers) so the worker cannot ever understand it.

    There has been an AWFUL lot of commentary about this very subject on the American Bar Association discussion boards for about 2 to 3 YEARS now. Most of it has centered on the rising cost of law schools, along with the VAST number of graduates, and the introduction of additional Tier-4 schools, most of which the diploma from is UTTERLY worthless to practicing law, because you WON’T be offered a job by ANY reputable firm at which to learn the TRADE of practicing law, nor will you likely be able to find mentors who won’t look down upon you.

    Ultimately, what is happening is that legal representation is becoming a commodity, rather than a profession, and in doing so is losing its elegance in favor of crass commercialism.

    That being said, there ARE a couple of bright spots if you’re willing to relocate.

    1.) I used to be Secretary of the Law Student Division of the State Bar of Michigan. As such, I had access to their data-files and attorney licensing statistics. In Michigan, more than HALF of the attorneys licensed are over the age of 60, and more than 1/3 are over the age of 70. Michigan, in the next 10 years will start to suffer from a distinct LACK of attorneys because of the attrition from the state. Now that I’ve said that, I would NEVER practice in the State of Michigan, because their STATE BAR as an organization is OUTRAGEOUSLY AWFUL. You could not PAY me enough to put up with their shenanigans and their self-righteous bullshit.

    2.) Urban areas are more saturated than Rural areas. This is true nation-wide. I currently live in El Paso. We have a city population of 700,000, but only 4300 total attorneys who live here (1 per 162 people). Now, granted the area itself is economically poor, so attorneys can’t charge expensive rates, but there seems to be sufficient work for most attorneys to at least get by. As always, some practices do better than others (bankruptcy, immigration, criminal drug defense) but for the most part, if you can find a niche, you can do OK.

    Contrast that to Austin, TX, which has a population of just shy of 800,000, and an attorney population of almost 30,000. Granted, it’s the state capitol, but still, that number of attorneys is ABSURD (1 per 22 people)

    Most of the solutions that the ABA commentators have pressed is the VAST REDUCTION in the number of accredited law schools to roughly 120-130. Even THAT may be too high of a number. Assuming a class size of 300, 130 law schools would produce 31,200 attorneys assuming an 80% graduation/Bar passage rate.

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