Hope For Lawyers?

December 14, 2011

Political Theory

It has been established that the legal market is currently not in its best shape to say the least. Employment rates are low, debt is high, and there’s no telling when the economy will significantly improve. In addition, J.D. graduates are not guaranteed a steady six-figure job as glamorized by popular culture. In fact, the median salary for the class of 2008 was $72,000 with only 23% making a median $160,000, (Russell, J.). It is for these reasons that many say it is more worthwhile to avoid law school altogether, saying the undergraduate job market fares much better. This gloomy thought implies that $200k+ and 3 years of lost opportunity costs can leave one in the same position as if one never attended law school in the first place.

One person's take on law schools' "B.S." statistics

Simplistically, the job market just does not have enough room for so many lawyers at the moment. For the best chance of getting a well paying job, prospective J.D. students are advised to attend schools with the highest rankings, which is supposedly what employers first take into consideration. Since there is a shortage of jobs for lawyers, school rankings have become increasingly prioritized to the point that one’s school has to be high even within the top tiered schools to be assured a decent job. This criteria for selecting law students for employment fits the idea of meritocracy within the field of law. Whether a law student would obtain a decent job or not depends on his merits, which in this case is largely the credentials of the school he attends. This way of weeding out law job applicants may not seem unfair especially during today’s economic circumstances in which there has to be a stricter criteria in selecting employees, but there are a lot of competent potential lawyers who would lose their job privileges due to this meritocratic system.

So is it really fair for employers to weight school rankings so heavily? I would think that law students predominantly develop their skills as lawyers during law school, not before they apply and start attending them. Is there such a huge discrepancy in the quality of teaching and student gains between schools that the rankings matter so much? I don’t see a flaw in using the meritocratic approach of law firms and other employers selecting law graduates, but the influence of school rankings is over the top. I do not think it is the right criteria to follow the way they do in choosing the most competent candidates to give that high paying salary, or any salary at all in this poor economy. The U.S.’s economic circumstances today highlight the repercussions of  this system because there are that many more capable law school graduates who would excel and so possibly even deserve to have jobs but would not be able to. The meritocratic process is almost made futile due to this school rankings flaw. So is there hope for prospective lawyers at all? Why is it that people who graduate med school are all on an almost equal par when it comes to employment? Is the number 1 law school (Yale) that much better than number 7 (MICHIGAN!)? Is the weight of law school rankings too great? Is the meritocratic way in employing lawyers even a fair way at all?



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5 Comments on “Hope For Lawyers?”

  1. acicurel Says:

    I have wanted to be a lawyer pretty much my entire life. As the son of a lawyer, my dad fed this interest and was someone I could look up to. We are not a wealthy family and I never had any serious aspirations of making a ton of money, but I at least expected to be able to get a job. I completely agree with this article that the job market for lawyers is horrible these days. I feel that this is caused more by an influx in lawyers than a problem in the way we give lawyers jobs. I also feel that the law school you attend is not the only thing that influences what jobs you can get. Internships, connections, and law school all impact what jobs you can get. In some cases internships and connections could be more important when comparing law school graduates from comparable schools.

  2. Michael Zanger Says:

    This isn’t entirely true. First year student have to work their asses off to earn the highest grades possible to earn a high paying (and I mean a lot of money) internship at a firm between their freshman year and sophomore year. The reason for this is to get to know the applicant and, hopefully, receive an offer to return the next summer, the summer after that, and hopefully a job.

    It’s probably not a good idea to consider wages when applying to law school. A good majority of the student who do end up not doing as well as those passionate about the job. I’ve considered public interest law and advocacy which makes very little money, but because I’m passionate about it, I know I’ll do well.

    Students wouldn’t be worried about space in firms if they’re pushing toward the right type of law for them and not only thinking about money.

  3. schoiidaho Says:

    The article does mention several very good, valid points, but I have to disagree with the fact that there is no hope for law school graduates in the future. Although it might look somewhat bleak right now, a greater job market and brighter future for lawyers will have to emerge sooner or later. Not only United States, but every country in the world runs and functions on laws. There are billions of laws, and everyone interprets them differently. There will be people breaking, bending, or doing everything to get around them. Whether its between two huge corporations or two people in a town, there will always be conflicts on who is whether the action was legal, allowed, or justified. Eventually, these will have to be settled, with the help and power of the people none less than lawyers.
    On the other hand though, I completley agree with the author that hiring students primary based on what school they graduated from is not competent and fair at all. This school-ranking hiring system has been a problem in most countries in Asia, especially Korea and China, as well. What school a student decides to attend tells nothing about what kind of person he or she is and what they are capable of. Good grades indicate didication and intelligence, but from what I see, colleges cannot possibly teach you about the real world and prepare you for it. We have to gain all the skills and knowledge by working and interacting in it ourselves.

  4. lmaren Says:

    I would agree that the importance of your school and it’s rankings is too extreme. My dad is a lawyer and he is very aware of the change in the law sphere. Recent graduates don’t have much on their resume because they are fresh and just starting out, so where you went to school says a lot about who you are and what you are capable of. In this regard, school rankings is very important! But it is not the only single factor. My dad has often complained about how plenty of good lawyers get passed up with job offers by others that went to better schools. It really is not fair that the system is so weighted. However, I don’t see an easy solution to the problem. It is very deep rooted and a change in the future does not seem too likely.

  5. Brian Hall Says:

    This is a very relevant post considering that many people in this class are of the persuasion that might lead to the foolhardy decision of going to law school. Obviously the shitty job market in general has everyone scrambling for law school, business school, and grad school alternatives. The wisdom of the decision often has to do with trying to differ having to find a job for at least 3 years until the economy has recovered. Clearly we are not out of the woods yet, and it is likely that job opportunities for law school grads won’t be much better for people graduating college thinking about applying right now.

    Personally, my future plans regarding law school are still quite uncertain. I still have the buffer of 2 1/2 years of undergrad left before making any decision about whether law school would be worthwhile, but eventually reality will probably bite me in the ass too. I am interested in international law, and am banking hard on my ability to speak three languages by the time I graduate to have some relevance to the job world (somebody has to translate contracts for those rich UAE oil mongers, right? I can dream anyway). Barring that, by 2016 the economy will probably be somewhat better anyway, I hope.

    To address several specific concerns raised in your post:

    A starting salary of 75K when you are only (potentially) 25 years old is absurd. I don’t see how anyone could complain when they are still making more than at least 50% of the population is making around retirement age. Personally, I’d be willing to accept a 60K a year job out of law school (not especially happily of course), despite the long debt repayment if it meant HAVING A JOB in this economy. Anyone making 160K a year when they’re 25 is probably not actually worth that amount anyway (seriously).

    As far as the Med school angle, the reason why it doesn’t especially matter which Med school you go to (obviously it does matter if you want to be a neurosurgeon) is because there is ALWAYS a shortage of doctors. Think about it: who the hell wants to spend 4 years of tough undergrad followed by 4 years of hell followed by another 2 or so years of sleepless residency just to get into a field that often requires 40+ hours of extremely tasking work, often making life or death decisions, and requires regular (I think 5 year interval if I recall corrrectly) license rexaminations? Only a very small percentage of the population has the proper combination of ambition, intelligence, specific aptitude and a near insane level of sheer determination to succeed in medicine. The attrition rate is such that most people considering a career in medicine from the beginning of undergrad on burn out and choose something else. Doctors deserve good job prospects because they actually have useful and in demand skills. Not everyone can be a doctor. Virtually everyone smart enough to graduate from a reputable college could potentially be a Lawyer though (maybe not a good one, but they could at least do a mediocre job).

    I’d say a big part of the solution to the undergrad unemployment problem is that people still in school need to really work on developing specific niche skills as soon as possible rather than just throwing themselves on grad and professional schools and hoping that that will be their ticket for success. You need to develop the skills necessary for the job market, not wait for the jobs to come to you or for the economy to recover. There are always plenty of niche jobs out there. If you have advanced proficiency in, say, a programming language, you are much more employable than somebody with a polisci degree and no job skills (start learning C++ now people).

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