Monday, June 25, 2012

Questions that No Law School Dean Will Ever (Truthfully) Answer

I'm in the process of preparing some new useful (I hope) content for Finding a Non Legal Job. In the meantime, I decided to take another crack at a traditional "scam blog" article.

Above the Law has recently started running a series on law school success stories. It profiles law graduates who claim to be better off thanks to their J.D.'s. To be fair to ATL, they have published a number of stories about the difficulty in finding legal employment and some of the associated problems with law schools. They also disclaim that these success stories aren't necessarily representative of the environment awaiting heavily indebted and poorly trained law school graduates.

That said - what is the point of these stories other than to blunt the increasingly dominant message that law school in it's present form is a bad investment and needs to be seriously restructured? While law school critics rightly point out that the full employment statistics churned out by the law schools are borderline fraudulent data, nobody claims that there is a 100% UNemployment rate either. I have no doubt that there are a decent number of graduates who find at least OK jobs, and some subset of this group may even really enjoy their work (or at least their salaries).

Focusing on this subset is nothing new for law school apologists. One of the charges these folks make against law critics is that these critics just couldn't hack it in the law, so they're projecting their own dissatisfaction. I saw a comment on JD Underground the other week alleging this very thing.

Quibbling over this charge isn't particularly fruitful. Yes, some anti-law school commentators didn't make it too far in the law. Some did. The diversity among the opponents of the law school cartel is too great to ascribe a single underlying motive to the entire movement.

While I never went down the path of practicing law, I do know some peers who appear to be happy with their decisions to become attorneys. This doesn't matter. I congratulate anyone who has found success in the law (or any other field). I don't object to people becoming lawyers. Lawyer jokes aside, society does need a certain number of attorneys to write contracts, prosecute/defend criminals, etc.

The objection isn't to the desire others may have to become attorneys. The objection is to the law school system which: 1) knowingly plunges its students into untenable levels of debt 2) fails to provide these students with marketable skills, and 3) pumps out more graduates than the market can absorb into an industry that will only pay a select few (of those lucky enough to find relevant employment) anything approaching a reasonable salary.

Yes, some graduates are satisfied with their post law school opportunities, but highlighting this cohort is just a tactic law schools use to deflect criticism regarding the far larger carnage their collective greed has inflicted onto everyone else.

The law school deans and related apologists are quite skilled at trotting out their success stories. After all, these expert marketers are great at dismissing serious objections and instead offering well engineered PR campaigns, but here are some questions I'd love hear the law school deans address...

  • Do you honestly believe that it's worth $150k to $200k plus for a degree from your school?
  • Does your answer change if you knew that most experts believe you shouldn't borrow more than you expect to make your first year out of school?
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  • Doesn't that reasonable rule preclude most of your students from attending your institution?
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  • In the cases of particularly heavy debt loads, doesn't that preclude ALL students from attending your school? (The absolute highest starting salary even at Big Law is $180k.)
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  • Law school tuition has increased considerably over the past decade, do you honestly believe the benefit of attending law school has justified this?
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  • If you said yes, are you saying that you dismiss all the reports of the terrible job market over the past couple of years?
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  • If yes, could you please explain why there are Craiglist ads offering $30k-$40k for entry level attorneys with top credentials?
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  • Do you believe that $30k - $40k is reasonable compensation for someone who undertook three years of graduate education at the cost of six figures worth of debt?
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  • If so, would you make this investment?
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  • Would you encourage a family member or close friend to make such an investment?
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  • Do you believe it's possible to live a normal life with such a salary and loan repayment obligations?
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  • Would you feel comfortable raising a family under such a scenario?
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  • Would you swear under oath that the employment statistics your school publishes are the truth - the whole truth - and nothing but the truth?
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  • If yes, would your answer change if this means that the figures aren't based on partially reported data; don't include temporary work; don't include working for the school (except in a long term, professional capacity); don't include menial non-legal jobs; don't include paralegal jobs; don't include entry level, non-legal jobs that were pursued only as default options?
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  • Your schools likely lists roughly 10-25% of its graduates filling "business" or "corporate" jobs - Do you believe all (or at least the vast majority) of these jobs are serious professional positions?
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  • Would you swear that none of these jobs are simple service sector jobs that could be filled by someone without even a college degree?
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  • Assuming 10 - 25% of your graduating class ends up with non-legal jobs, do you honestly believe 10 to 25% of your class willingly enrolled in your school to end up NOT being attorneys?
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  • If yes, do you honestly believe that there are any employers that are specifically seeking (or strongly desire) non practicing recent law graduates?
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  • Can you name ten such employers?
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  • Can you name one?
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  • Do they pay anything close to your advertised average starting salary?
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  • Do you honestly believe that the average starting salary reported by your school accurately reflects what an average student will make after graduation?
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  • If you answered yes, and I survey ten students ranked in the middle of your class, how many of them do you think will make within $10,000 of the average starting salary the year after law school?
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  • Will any of them?
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  • What if we exclude document review?
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  • Do you believe temporary document review is reasonable employment for a licensed attorney who completed three years of schooling at your institution?
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  • If yes, would you personally be happy reviewing electronic documents for relevance as your sole professional task?
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  • If no, and you stand behind the published salary data your school offers, why do so many of graduates end up in this line of work?
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  • Once again, assuming you stand by your salary data, why was this an issue even (or particularly) before the recession?
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  • Do you believe any students would have really enrolled in your school if they knew they would have to work long term in document review?
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  • Do you believe that students would have enrolled in your school if they knew they would end up in small personal injury law, low level insurance defense law, debt collection, or landlord tenant law?
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  • If so, would you have been happy working in these areas of law after receiving an expensive graduate degree and forgoing three years in the workforce?
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  • Do you believe that after three years at your LAW school, your students are capable of actually practicing law?
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  • If so, would you be willing to be represented by any recent graduate assuming he/she passes the bar?
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  • Do you honestly believe there are enough law or related jobs available to employ your graduates after they enter the workforce?
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  • If so, why is there story after story in any number of mainline publications discussing the number of unemployed law graduates?
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  • If not, do feel any culpability for leaving a generation of law graduates indebted and unemployed?
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  • How do you sleep at night?

2 comments:

  1. Great questions! The only one that's somewhat problematic is "Would you encourage a friend or family member to make such an investment?" Most law school deans would say "yes" because their friends and family members would probably have connections (including said dean) and resources most other law students don't have.

    Otherwise, it's a great list.

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  2. Excellent post!

    In addition to disclosing truthful employment statistics, law schools should also disclose how many of the students end up getting those high-paying "big firm" jobs via connections, rather than skill or class rank. If students knew the game was rigged from the beginning, they might think twice before signing for those six figure loans. I know I would have. Of course, my parents wore rose-colored glasses and always told me life was what I made it - that it didn't matter what school I went to or who I knew as long as I worked hard and graduated in the top of my class. Now that they've had to spend $100K to help their once vivacious child, who is now despondent and bitter, get out of the vicious student loan debt cycle, they're singing a different tune.

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