Law schools, don’t expect your applications to rebound anytime soon. The Law School Admissions Council (LSAC) recently released data showing that fewer people took the February 2013 LSAT than any administration of the February test ever.
Forever ever? Forever ever. In fact, the number represents one of the smallest amounts of test takers since 1988.
1988, folks. The Berlin Wall was still up. People were listening to Rick Astley and not ironically.
The reduced number of test takers is certainly a result of students beginning to question the value proposition of law school. But some of it is undoubtedly the result of intelligent students questioning the value proposition of being a lawyer.
Would you want to go into a field that hasn’t seen a starting salary raise since 2007?
According to LSAC, only 19,286 people took the LSAT in February 2013. To put that in context, that figure represents nearly a 13% decrease from the same test administration last year.
That makes sense, especially if you consider the fact that “lawyer,” and even “top lawyer,” is comparatively a much worse job now than it was back in 2005.
Think about it: even for the top jobs, there hasn’t been a raise in the starting salary since 2007. Pay is stagnant, even for those lucky enough to get Biglaw jobs. Meanwhile, the DOW is near all time highs, bankers are back making huge bonuses, and there are a bunch of smart college grads trying to figure out how to work for Google or Facebook — or create the next Google or Facebook. There is venture capital to be had.
Before, people were willing to trade the fast money of investment banking for the long-term stability of legal practice. But during the recession, lawyers got fired just like everybody else.
It also doesn’t take a lot of research to notice that top lawyers hit hard ceilings when it comes to career advancement. Firms aren’t exactly jumping at the chance to make new hordes of equity partners. Unlike in business, where you can simply use new technologies to outperform aging colleagues who can no longer chew the leather, partnership and leadership at top firms can get ossified in a warren of backroom relationships.
Now add law schools back into that mix. People with hot ideas who can attract venture capital are eager to get out of college. They’re not eager to commit to three more years of classroom education and debt. No guy who wants to build the next Instagram wants to be sitting in a classroom for a full year before he’s even allowed to take a copyright class.
Lawyers work long hours, don’t get paid nearly as much as those who can afford their bills, and have to make a significant investment into their own education. It’s a pedestrian choice in a world of fast lanes.
I know, I know, I am obligated to say that $160,000 (which is still the starting salary at many top law firms) is a lot of money, or else Swamp People will come after me with pitchforks. But honestly, if you want to go through three years of post-college education and then work 100 hours a week for $160K, then you are a low-expectation-having motherf***er.
The money is no longer all that good. Not to go all Justin Timberlake, but a six-figure salary isn’t cool, a seven-figure salary is cool. A low six-figure payout for a job that requires you to live on the coast is middle-class basically. And aspirational college students — at least the ones who aren’t going to graduate unemployed and forced to move back in with their parents — are shooting for something a little bit more than middle class.
The ones that are looking at unemployment are also the ones who question the financial literacy of putting themselves in six figures of debt.
If you have options, law probably isn’t your best option. If you don’t have options, why would you want to take on that debt? Add it together and you have a record low number of people taking the LSAT. If we’re talking about the brain drain away from law, we’re only at the beginning.
And there probably won’t be a course correction until (wait for it)… NY to $190K!