This isn’t the first and it won’t be the last time we have to knock down this ridiculous argument. There’s simply a lot of money invested in making prospective law students believe it.
And it makes a certain kind of sense. We’ve extensively reported on the decrease in law schools applications. We’re at all-time historic lows. It’s a comforting and mathematically banal argument that the lack of applications now will lead to a dearth of law graduates in 2016, which will mean great times(!) for the class of 2016. More importantly, law schools want people to believe those brave enough to apply to the class of 2017 will benefit from an “undersupply” of new lawyers by the time they graduate. I promise you more than half of the class at Cooley actually believe this crap.
The problem, of course, is that it’s not true. It’s not true, and the people who say it’s true have no evidence that it’s true. Heck, there’s an “undersupply” of lawyers right now, if you look at poor and low-income clients. But that hasn’t actually resulted in a vibrant hiring market for new and recent graduates now, has it?
It’s a bad argument, but let’s walk through it so you have something to link to when you hear it from friends who don’t know how to use Google….
Did you catch the bit where he breezed through the most important point? “Demand for legal services, however, probably increases as population increases.”
Haven’t we had enough people go to law school because things will “probably” work out?
Thing is, I asked Jim Leipold, director of NALP, exactly this question at the conference this year. I asked him if decreased law school applications would mean good times for graduates in 2016. I asked if the decreased supply would basically “even out” with the reduced demand. And if I had to summarize his answer in Ted Seto terms, it would be: probably not.
Nebulous demand for “legal services” and demand of graduates of three-year law schools who have bills and debts to pay are two entirely different things. I know that law professors don’t really have to concern themselves with such fine distinctions, but you best believe their would-be students do.
And even if you argue that there will be demand to simply fill all the seats currently available for new and recent graduates, the nature of that demand is changing. Big firms are hiring fewer traditional “partner track” associates and more contract attorneys. They’re moving more entry-level work offshore. Technically, that’s demand, but it’s hardly the kind of demand that 2016 graduates are going to be looking for.
If Seto’s rosy scenario convinces you to borrow $100,000 to go to Loyola – L.A. for the class of 2017, don’t come crying to me when you end up as a contractor making $50K in Wheeling, West Virginia. Or to Ted Seto. That’s “probably” what you were hoping for anyway, right?
Seto: JD Job Prospects as Predicted by JD Degrees Per Capita [Tax Prof Blog]