There’s an outside chance that more people will read this post about the declining number of people taking the June LSAT than will actually sit for the June LSAT.
It’s trite and banal to say that “the media” or “the internet” is responsible for the declining number of people interested in law school. Law school deans want you to think that they are in some kind of losing battle with media sources. And sure, the fact that the “law school brochure” no longer stands unchallenged by “reputable media sources” has something to do with the fact that June LSAT takers are at a 14-year low. The truth is out there, and the ability of prospective law students — and their parents — to just Google “Suffolk Law School” lessens the effectiveness of your average subway advertisement.
But the internet isn’t responsible for people staying away from law schools. Law schools themselves are encouraging people to stay away in droves. They put up flashing “Don’t Come In Here” signs every time they unleash another disaffected class of graduates out onto the market…
For any law school, its alumni are its best ambassadors. Most people try to talk to peers who have actually been through law school before deciding to take the plunge. The internet allows such conversations to happen over Facebook instead of at a bar, but the fundamental process of talking to people who have already done what you are thinking of doing is the same. Nobody jumps out of a plane without first talking with some other people who have jumped out of planes. If everybody you knew DIED OR GOT SERIOUSLY INJURED JUMPING OUT OF PLANES, you’d probably be less enthusiastic about taking that skydiving course. Maybe the argument that “fewer people are jumping so there should be more parachutes available in the future” wouldn’t be all that compelling to you.
How do you think the conversation between prospective law students and recent law graduates has gone over the past seven years? The difference you are seeing in the LSAT numbers is the difference between “I hate my job, but I make a lot of money doing it” and “I have no job, but I’m in debt that is non-discharable through regular bankruptcy.” There’s no ad campaign, New York Times op-ed, Slate article, or paper of questionable scholarship that is going to make up for that.
If you look at the general trend of law school reforms, such as they are, they’re all designed to appeal to the next crop of law students. Law schools are doing nothing to to ameliorate the losses of their former recent students. Did you shockingly get no-offered from your Biglaw job in the summer of 2009? Sorry bub, hope you enjoy being a contract attorney. Did your one-year, school-funded position run out as soon as you counted as “employed” for U.S. News? Sorry bub, hope you enjoy your mother’s basement. Did you pay full price to go to a law school in a big market only to find that you should have taken that scholarship to go to school in a tertiary market where they still hire? Sorry bub, big lights will inspire you. Did you graduate in 2013 or 2014 as part of the biggest classes ever? Sorry bub, you probably shouldn’t have listened to us in 2010 and 2011.
Law schools think that their recent graduates who got screwed aren’t their problem anymore. In fact, those guys are the biggest problem for law schools. It’s those people, more than anybody else, who are telling their friends and family to “stay away.” It’s those parents who are saying to other parents “my kid went to law school, and look what happened.” Law school deans, economists, and (some members of) the media act like the glut of unemployed and under-employed law graduates no longer affects the market going forward because they’re no longer competing for the choice entry-level jobs. But these people didn’t just die. They’re still out there, still struggling, and still telling their stories to anyone who will listen.
Law schools have created an army of people who tell other people not to go to law school. That is their legacy over the past half decade. Their damage to their own brands is severe.
If you want to write them off as an army of “the bitters,” that’s fine. But it’s a tough sell: “Your friend whom you’ve known since grade school? Yeah, she’s just a bitter failure. But you can trust me to tell the real truth about my law school. You’ll find all the information you need in this complimentary tote bag.”
Look, I get that expecting law schools to “make amends” with the people they’ve injured is asking way too much. If they were in a 12-step program, law schools would still be unable to complete step one: admitting they have a problem. You can’t get law schools to flood the zone with career services for current students. It’s a vicious cycle: the lack of new applicants means that cash-strapped “alumni outreach” is even more committed to “can you give us money” scavenging, instead of “how can we help you” service.
As long as law schools’ newest ambassadors remain their harshest critics, the number of new law school applicants is going to be depressed. You reap what you sow. All the media is doing is recording the bitter harvest.
Earlier: Law School Is Not A Stock: It’s A Very Expensive Lotto Ticket
How Did The Law School Class Of 2013 Do In The Job Market?
Law Dean Takes to the New York Times to Blame Media for Declining Law School Applications
The ATL Markup Of Slate’s ‘Apply To Law School Now!’ Article
Revamping Career Services: Two Modest Proposals