Over the past few days we’ve seen an outpouring of support for the proposition that people should go to law school. It’s clear that there are many students in law school or heading to law school who believe that they’ve made the right decision (and it is the right decision, for some people). Moreover, we’ve learned that a lot of people seem to think that ATL — or, more specifically, me — have some kind of vested interest in crushing dreams and making law students feel bad.
Duly noted. I probably should stick my vuvuzela up my butt and let you guys enjoy the excitement of starting out on a new career.
But as Gandalf once said: “I’m not trying to rob you, I’m trying to help you.”
So fine, don’t take my word for it. Maybe you’ll listen to your friend, your God, the U.S. News & World Report…
From a U.S. News article yesterday:
Demand for a legal education remains high, despite odds stacking against it.
Tuition has risen for the 2010-2011 school year at law schools across the country, even as industry jobs disappear by the month. The most recent Bureau of Labor Statistics report shows 3,900 jobs were cut from the legal sector in June alone, capping off a year of 22,200 job losses…
With demand and cost climbing higher and job prospects diminishing, what’s happening to the value of a legal education? The answer is questionable, at least for the J.D. credential itself, says Bill Henderson, law professor at the Indiana University—Bloomington’s Maurer School of Law.
You know, when U.S. News — a mainstream magazine that makes money off of people’s fascination with law schools — is pushing out articles questioning the value proposition of going to law school, you’ve got to stand up and take notice.
The information is out there, people. But prospective law students simply refuse to listen:
California-based law school admissions consultant Ann Levine says that dimming job prospects and increasingly high tuition have yet to deter her nationwide client pool from seeking elite placements.
“I had thought people would be more concerned about scholarships and willing to let go of ranking a little bit; I was wrong,” says Levine. “Still, people want to generally go to the best law school they can get into, regardless of costs.”…
While “everyone talks about the cost of tuition,” Levine says, “it’s actually not going to impact demand greatly because I think people see it as somewhat inevitable and beyond their control.”
And it’s not going to change. Administrators running these law schools have no incentive to control tuition costs:
In Arizona, where tuition increased at Arizona State University’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law and University of Arizona Law School’s James E. Rogers College of Law, outgoing president of the Arizona Board of Regents Ernest Calderón said graduate schools shoulder more of the budget burden.
“Certainly for the professions that tend to have a significant financial reward on the back end, we believe that students can pay a higher rate — whatever the market will allow for professional and graduate school,” Calderón said. “Then, if they have debt, they can retire that.”
Employment statistics are not taken into serious consideration, Calderón adds, because his board is not supplied with raw data.
Employment statistics are not taken into serious consideration. The people who control law school tuition openly admit that it has become totally detached from what graduating attorneys can actually expect to earn. Is there any price point at which people would no longer be willing to go into debt to get a J.D.? A quarter of a million dollars? $500,000? At this point you could tell a prospective law student that legal education would put the student $1 million in debt — and they’d probably hiss at you and say “Well, top partners make well over a million dollars in just one year.”
And remember, law schools have every incentive to feed into this insanity:
Perhaps unsurprisingly, law school officials unanimously voiced continued support for ambitious students choosing a legal education, especially when curricula embrace the changing tides of the professional market.
Says Arizona State’s Berman, “I think that law school remains a great investment because of the kinds of analytical skills law school teaches — whether you end up practicing at a law firm, or going into business, or going into government.”
Law school might be interesting, it might be intellectually challenging, hell, law school might be three freaking years of sex orgies — but for most people it is not a good “investment” right now. Just like in the real estate market circa 2006, there will be a few winners and a metric ton of losers:
Escalating tuition prices in a troubled market, spurred onward by generous student loans and students who are not fully committed to the profession, is a dangerous bubble that may well burst, Indiana University—Bloomington’s Henderson says.
“I’m trying to separate the value of the legal education from the signaling value that’s driving the bubble,” Henderson said. “The trends are clearly unsustainable.”
What can I say? What can anybody say? The information is out there, and it is so obvious that even U.S. News is reporting on it. Law school costs too much. I don’t say that to be mean, I don’t say that because I’m myopically projecting my own life experiences onto an entire population. I say that … because I can add.
You can listen, or you can go hunt your white whale.
As Law School Tuitions Climb, So Does Demand [U.S. News]
Earlier: In Defense of Going to Law School