I graduated from Northwestern Law in 2009. It is now 2011, my loans are coming due (real due — not the fake, put ‘em in forebearance, due of yesteryear), and I am currently “employed” doing two things: reviewing documents at an embarrassing hourly wage on projects that start and stop without any sort of consistency, and writing “jokes” about the Microsoft Zune every weekday morning, every other week. To borrow from David Foster Wallace, this is water.
And so it is with a sick sort of pleasure that I read Professor Paul Campos’s very interesting piece on The New Republic website yesterday. Coupled with Elie’s post on the Biglaw bloodletting, the article tells me what I’ve wanted to know and, in fact, what I’ve been telling my mom for two years now. Namely, that MJ was right. I am not alone.
What is the true state of unemployment for law school graduates? Professor Campos has crunched some numbers….
Law schools have been lying through their teeth about employment statistics for years now, and the only people who could possibly believe their bulls**t are the same people who believe in the transformative power of the Shake Weight®. This is not news to anyone who has been paying any sort of attention.
What Paul Campos adds to the debate is that he digs deeper into the numbers that have floated around. First, he notes the new U.S. News employment numbers, calculated according to a revised methodology:
The new USNWR percentages are therefore somewhat less inaccurate: Schools that, until a few weeks ago, were claiming one in 500 graduates were unemployed now claim one in 30 are, while those who were advertising 95 percent employment rates are saying one in six graduates don’t have jobs, and so on down the hierarchical line.
This is progress… I guess? As Jeffrey Skilling might have said, “Guys at my corporation used to play with numbers like this all the time. It was no big deal.”
The other set of numbers that Campos looks at are the NALP numbers for all accredited law schools. Here, he notes:
The other source is the National Association for Law Placement (NALP) — the group to which the ABA delegates the compiling of employment statistics that ABA-accredited law schools are required to report. According to the NALP, 88.2 percent of all law school graduates are “employed” within nine months of graduation. If we exclude people employed in non-legal jobs, and people doing part-time work, the NALP number drops to 62.9 percent.
Okay, so when we cull the number of graduates giving out handjobs for crack, the number dips to 62.9 percent. Well, 62.9 percent is pretty disheartening. But Campos isn’t done. Looking specifically at one top-50 school, he finds that the number of employed graduates is even lower when you take out those who are doing temp work: 45 percent, to be exact. And digging even deeper? He finds that there is likely a bias towards fibbing upwards in self-reporting. Graduates will say they have permanent work when they only have temporary or part-time work.
What does this fake work look like? Well, it looks like what Georgetown Law’s six-week admissions office employment offered to recent grads. Northwestern ran a similar program. They called it being a “Dean’s Fellow.” We were all Dean Van Zandt’s… fellows. Or something. Like a ten-dollar-an-hour research assistant’s gig wasn’t humiliating enough, we had to deal with the Orwellian title that implied we were part of some kind of special elect. F**k.
Just because what Campos is saying is bleeding obvious to those of us immersed in the conversation doesn’t mean that it’s not important for people like Campos, a professor at Colorado Law, to keep saying it. Now, I’m not wholly convinced that this kind of truth in advertising will tamp down the demand for legal education. In the end, law school will remain the last resort for morons like me who have managed to spend a quarter of a century on this planet without knowing what it is they want to do with their lives. Moms said I was a good arguer.
No, it’s good enough that what is being said is true. Because truth and God and the Bible. Holden was right. This world is full of phonies and many of them are employed by law schools now. It’s cool to reference Catcher in the Rye, right? Whatever.
The economy will turn around and it’s plausible that law firms will return to handing out jobs like candy at a NAMBLA convention. And when they do, hopefully this conversation will not be dropped. As Warren Buffett remarked about the economic downturn, “You only learn who has been swimming naked when the tide goes out.” Don’t let the rising water fool you. Plenty of these law schools are naked as hell under there.