When Econoholic sent me this Near York Times article on law school, I wondered if Half Sigma had already commented on it:

In reality, and based on every other source of information, Mr. Wallerstein and a generation of J.D.’s face the grimmest job market in decades. Since 2008, some 15,000 attorney and legal-staff jobs at large firms have vanished, according to a Northwestern Law study. Associates have been laid off, partners nudged out the door and recruitment programs have been scaled back or eliminated.

And with corporations scrutinizing their legal expenses as never before, more entry-level legal work is now outsourced to contract temporary employees, both in the United States and in countries like India. It’s common to hear lawyers fret about the sort of tectonic shift that crushed the domestic steel industry decades ago.

But improbably enough, law schools have concluded that life for newly minted grads is getting sweeter, at least by one crucial measure. In 1997, when U.S. News first published a statistic called “graduates known to be employed nine months after graduation,” law schools reported an average employment rate of 84 percent. In the most recent U.S. News rankings, 93 percent of grads were working — nearly a 10-point jump.

In the Wonderland of these statistics, a remarkable number of law school grads are not just busy — they are raking it in. Many schools, even those that have failed to break into the U.S. News top 40, state that the median starting salary of graduates in the private sector is $160,000. That seems highly unlikely, given that Harvard and Yale, at the top of the pile, list the exact same figure.

He had. To his credit, he was sounding off this warning years ago. Not just about law school being a scam for anybody that doesn’t get into the Top-14 schools (an argument I think he takes a few steps too far), but about the statistics the law schools put out more generally.

Slate has a similar article from last year:

The students might be litigious—no surprise there—and overwrought. But they’ve got a point. The demand for lawyers has fallen off a cliff, both due to the short-term crisis of the recession and long-term changes to the industry, and is only starting to rebound. The lawyers that do have jobs are making less than they used to. At the same time, universities seeking revenue have tacked on law schools, minting more lawyers every year.

That has caused some concern among lawyers who think the accrediting organization, the American Bar Association, is doing the profession a disservice by approving so many new schools. (Contrast that with medical schools. They come with much higher startup costs and tend not to be money-makers. Relatively few students get medical degrees every year, and demand far outstrips supply.)

The job market for lawyers is terrible, full stop—and that hits young lawyers, without professional track records and in need of training, worst. Though the National Association for Law Placement, an industry nonprofit group, reports that employment for the class of 2009 was 88.3 percent, about a quarter of those jobs were temporary gigs, without the salaries needed by most new lawyers to pay off crushing debts. Another 10 percent were part-time. And thousands of jobs were actually fellowships or grants provided by the new lawyers’ law schools.

Relatedly, we have this:

Guy goes to law school, guy racks up a huge amount of debt, guy has no idea how he’ll pay off his debts. Sound familiar? Okay, here’s the twist: the guy failed the “character and fitness” component of the Ohio bar because he has no plan to pay off his loans.

What the hell kind of legal education system are we running where we charge people more than they can afford to get a legal education, and then prevent them from being lawyers because they can’t pay off their debts?

Because it’s not like Hassan Jonathan Griffin was in a particularly unique situation when he went before the Ohio bar. A year and a half ago, we wrote about a man who was dinged on his character and fitness review because he was $400,000 in debt. That’s an extraordinary case. Hassan Jonathan Griffin owes around $170,000. He has a part-time job as a public defender. He used to be a stockbroker. He’s got as much a chance of figuring out a way to pay off his loans as most people from the Lost Generation.

If Griffin can’t pass C&F, Ohio might as well say that half of the recent graduates in the state don’t have the “character and fitness” to be a lawyer…

There’s something ironic about making the choice of representing those that cannot afford their own representation as causing someone to fail a “character and fitness test”.


Category: School

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17 Responses to Law School & Such

  1. Peter says:

    As I pointed out at Siggy’s, this problem will NEVER get better because people will NEVER stop pouring into law schools. All the grim statistics and horror stories will be dismissed as it-can’t-happen-to-me. Guess what, Young Einstein, it can and probably will happen to you.

  2. SFG says:

    Peter: naah, they’ll eventually run out of suckers to fleece, or at least enough people will get wise to it to make the bottom tier collapse, and you’ll have a more reasonable state of affairs. I wonder what they’ll do with all the closed law schools?

    “There’s something ironic about making the choice of representing those that cannot afford their own representation as causing someone to fail a “character and fitness test”.”

    Things like this sometimes make me think that God may not exist, but Satan certainly does. The world is truly evil.

  3. trumwill says:

    Part of the issue is (and Half Sigma seems to deny that this ever happens) a lot of people get out of law school and do just fine. It may be risky, but it’s just not the sure loser that Half Sigma says it is.

    At least not outside the northeast.

  4. SFG says:

    Probably there’s a whole ‘become a family lawyer at a 5-person firm’ pattern in Columbus that doesn’t exist in Manhattan.

  5. Peter says:

    It may be risky, but it’s just not the sure loser that Half Sigma says it is.

    It’s crazy to take a risk given the very high cost of law school and the inability to discharge student loans in bankruptcy.

  6. trumwill says:

    It’s really too bad that there aren’t some good statistics available. I would be really interested in the median income of a JD compared to that of a liberal arts BA.

  7. Maria says:

    The lawyer glut is not a problem. The government will just create more laws and more categories of laws.

  8. Peter says:

    It’s really too bad that there aren’t some good statistics available. I would be really interested in the median income of a JD compared to that of a liberal arts BA.

    It’s possible that the lawyers are somewhat higher. Focusing just on median income is misleading, however, because the JD’s will have lost three years’ income while in law school and, in most cases, incurred large student loan debts. My reasoned guess is that after taking these two factors into account, the liberal arts BA’s will be better off financially.

  9. superdestroyer says:

    It would help if the liberal arts students understood statistics. the Legal profession is a log-normal career field where a few make a ton of money and more than 50% never work as attorney’s. People refuse to make life decisions based upon statistical distribution.

    On the other hand, medicine is a normally distributed career field. The best oncologist in the U.S at Sloan-Kettering or the Mayo Clinic gets the same reimbursement from Medicare as the physician who passed with boards this year.

  10. Mike Hunt says:

    superdestroyer: the Legal profession is a log-normal career field

    People who go to law school don’t know what lognormal means.

  11. trumwill says:

    Peter, it would be interesting to find out, regardless. Per SuperD’s comment, you would probably need the 25th and 75th percentile for it to be really useful (maybe the 90th and the 10th as well). But with those numbers, you can calculate out student debt and the like and to get a firm idea.

  12. trumwill says:

    The best oncologist in the U.S at Sloan-Kettering or the Mayo Clinic gets the same reimbursement from Medicare as the physician who passed with boards this year.

    I can’t speak for oncology, but in family medicine docs that undergo special training and get extra experience can get hospital privilege to do different procedures, many of which allow for greater profit-potential than a regular general practitioner. I would think that a doctor at the Mayo Clinic would be allowed to perform procedures that a freshly-minted doc would not.

    What you say is correct, and it is important to note that even the bottom 10% of docs are going to do quite well in a way that the bottom 10% of law school graduates won’t, but there are other factors at work as well.

  13. superdestroyer says:

    Trumwell,

    From personal experience, I know that virtually all insurance companies apy the same thing for iodine ablation therapy. Where it is done inpatient or outpatient and whether the physician who is doing it was credential last week for forty years ago. There are games that hospitals, clinics, and physicians can do to maximize income such as how follow up s are scheduled.

    However, all physicians are paid the same. It is not like the physicians can say that he is the leading physician in the U.S. on the procedures (like the physicians at UNM Health Sciences Center) can demand for more money because they know more about the procedure.

  14. trumwill says:

    Yes, They get paid the same, provided that they are doing the same things. Doctors with more experience and/or more training are allowed to do (or get first crack at) more and better procedures. They get the referrals, they get the privileges, and they have seniority within their hospital. That’s why, generally speaking, older* doctors end up bringing home more money at the end of the day than do younger ones**.

    I’m not arguing that the reimbursements are different. I’m just pointing out that, despite the fact reimbursements are the same per billable action, the veteran and rookie doctors do not end up taking home the same amount of money. There are not the tremendous differences that you see with law, but there are differences when it comes to how much they earn overall. That’s all I’m saying.

    * – And/or more experienced, and/or more comprehensively trained***.

    ** – And/or less experienced, and/or less-trained doctors***.

    *** – Even within the same general field.

  15. Peter says:

    People who go to law school don’t know what lognormal means.

    Law school: the refuge for people with high I.Q. scores who can’t do math.

  16. Kirk says:

    Lognormal? Shit, I still don’t know what “standard deviation” means. I’m betting I’m not the only one.

  17. Abel says:

    The nice thing about being an English major is that there were absolutly no expectations to be dashed about getting a good paying job after college. And for those who had student debt, it was small compared to what these graduates have.

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