This isn’t what I meant when I said law students need a helping hand.
I know, that’s not really a fair question. In most cases, you have to submit yourself to three expensive years of law school before they will even allow you to cram for six weeks in order to pass the bar. I just wanted to highlight that the expensive part of becoming a lawyer is the three years — the last of which is completely useless — not that sprint at the end to pass the bar exam.
That’s why it doesn’t make sense for a state to sell a “no bar exam for in-state students” option as a cost savings for students. You want to help students? Get rid of the third year of law school. You want to incentivize students to remain in-state for law school during a highly competitive market for law applications? Then you follow Wisconsin’s path and offer to ignore your own bar exam if people would just please, please, please go to an in-state school.
Another Midwestern state is considering doing just that, because it helps the schools, not because it helps students….
Let me explain how this started. The American Association of Law Schools had its annual conference this weekend here in New York. On Saturday, I spoke on a panel about law school rankings with Bob Morse (U.S. News), Karen Sloan (National Law Journal), Katrina Dewey (Lawdragon), and Dimitra Kessenides (Bloomberg BNA). It was a fun and lively discussion in which we explained the different things we were trying to capture with our law school rankings, and how law school rankings are used and should be used. My plan was to cover the conference on Friday, speak on Saturday, then get drunk on Saturday night to make up for not being able to get drunk on Friday night.
But there was a huge snowstorm in NYC on Thursday night and I did not have the will to pull out my dogsled and make it to midtown on Friday morning. Instead, I followed the conference via various Twitter feeds of people who did make it. This was surprisingly effective (the internet is an amazing thing). Instead of being stuck in one room, I was following reports from many. So I was just sitting, warm and cozy in my basement, when this tweet went up:
Dean: Tuition costs not only reason grads in debt. They don’t apply for scholarships, drive nice cars. #aals2014
This isn’t the first car-related foolishness we’ve heard from defenders of law school; the former president of the ABA told law students that they should sell their cars to pay for law school. And this needs to stop. There are too many people in charge of law schools who remember tuition costs from when they went to school, which is beyond irrelevant.
Since some of these guys appear to be too addled to do the math, I’ve come up with something easier: pictures. I want you to show us what kind of car you drive in law school (or what kind of car you drove). Send us your jalopy; hell, if you have a sweet ride, send that too (subject line “Law School Car”). I would love to see if any of these cars could even put a dent in the current price of law school tuition.
Some of our Twitter followers were more than happy to start us out….
An actual top-50 law school has cut its tuition. They’re not giving a tuition “reimbursement” or “credit” or “scholarship.” They’re not making it a one-time deal available to impulse shoppers. Instead, they’re reducing tuition, across the board, for both in-state and out-of-state students, across all class years. They’re cutting tuition. Let us give them thanks and praise.
It’s still expensive, probably prohibitively so. But a top-tier school putting its tuition in reverse is big, bright news. I award this school all the corn in my silo, they’ve earned it….
I really don’t want to be that guy at the dinner table who points out that the mashed potatoes are lumpy and the turkey is a bit dry. A law school is cutting tuition by half for some students, and for that we should be thankful. This follows a trend, seen here and there, in which law schools are starting to respond to the low interest in legal education by competing on price.
Except it also follows the trend of not really being a tuition “cut.” Instead it’s a tuition scholarship that is worth about half of the tuition, while the school maintains its high listed sticker price.
Well, this is Above the Law, not a Thanksgivukkah meal. Who wants a side of hater?
Regular readers of Above the Law are well aware of the bimodal salary distribution curve of starting salaries for new lawyers. Lawyers understand why the curve looks the way it does: there are a few “elite” firms that essentially engage in salary collusion at the very top (don’t everybody start thanking Above the Law at once), while most lawyers will struggle to find a job in the $40K – $60K range.
When non-lawyers see this curve, they are surprised. The curve popped up on Mother Jones the other day, and author Kevin Drum called the $160K spike “pretty weird.” Then the commenters on his post — actually HELPFUL commenters who managed to weigh in without personal attacks on the author — explained to Drum why it was so.
But that’s kind of the problem: people only become aware of the bimodal salary distribution curve after they’ve been to law school (and done things like become a regular reader of Above the Law). They don’t get the information before they commit to law school, when the information could be useful. In a world without time machines, hindsight is blind.
Still, even people who have already committed to their dread fate can benefit from an understanding of history. Do you know what the salary distribution curve looked like in 1991, during the last “great” lawyer recession? Do you think the people who are charging you money to go to law school have seen it?
I’m using the term “balls” as a synonym for gall. I’m invoking the connotation of “stubbornness.” A law professor who can look at the current legal job market and the financial ruin suffered by so many law graduates, and fix his mouth to suggest that law school should take longer (and thereby cost more), really has balls. It’d be like Orson Scott Card thanking the producers of Ender’s Game for not casting “a little gay kid” in the title role.
I’m reluctant to even write this post and give this professor a wider circulation for his crackpot views, but I want the internet record to be complete, lest some person who hasn’t been paying attention happens upon the professor’s article and stupidly thinks, “This makes sense to me….”
When law deans and other law school defenders talk about the high cost of legal education, they try to justify the price in economic terms. They cite ridiculous and largely unsupported figures about the value of a law degree. They point out the cost of the faculty. Explicitly or not, they don’t see a problem with charging the absolute maximum that the market will bear. They feel no shame for enticing young people to invest in law school by any means necessary, fair or unfair.
But the unreasonable cost of law school doesn’t just play out in purely economic terms. Students who graduate with a mountain of debt pay the human costs of hopelessness, deferred dreams, and often the burden of having to rely on parents long past the point when they had hoped to be self-sufficient.
We tend to focus on the plight of unemployed law graduates, but it’s always important to remember that “winning” and landing one of the few Biglaw jobs out there that even gives you a shot to pay off your debts can be pretty awful too. The high debt makes many law graduates feel like indentured servants, forced to work jobs they don’t want, in order to service their loans.
I think there are a lot of people who will empathize with this law graduate from a top school with a Biglaw job who feels like even death isn’t a suitable way around his law school loans…
All of these topics combine to form the rich tapestry of sadness that is scraping and struggling as an out-of-work attorney in a market that hates you. However, you have to read a number of ATL stories to see all sides of the unemployment problem. There just isn’t “one stop shopping” for how much it sucks.
But then this came along and summed up the whole experience of unemployed lawyers perfectly….
Despite calls for change from the highest of authorities, law school tuition is still too damn high. In fact, for most recent law school graduates (myself included), it’s financially crippling.
Sure, class sizes have gotten smaller — whether due to law schools’ attempts to rightsize or due to lack of interest from prospective students — but tuition hasn’t. Some schools have managed to keep it flat (albeit at too high of a level), but others have had the nerve to dramatically increase tuition in these trying times for legal education.
Given how resistant the old and gray occupants of the ivory tower are to change, perhaps some frightening predictions about the future of law school tuition will help them open their eyes. If you think you’re hurting for students to fill the seats now, just wait until it costs $78,000 a year to attend…
Ed. note: The Asia Chronicles column is authored by Kinney Recruiting. Kinney has made more placements of U.S. associates, counsels and partners in Asia than any other recruiting firm in each of the past seven years. You can reach them by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
It’s that time of year again when JDs are starting to apply for 2L summer jobs and 2L summers are deciding which practice area to focus on.
For those JDs with an interest in potentially lateraling to or transferring to Asia in the future, please feel free to reach out to Kinney for advice on firm choices, interviewing and practice choices, relating to future marketability in Asia, or for a general discussion on your particular Asia markets of interest. This is of course a free of cost service for those who some years in the future may be our future industry contacts or perhaps even clients.
For some years now Kinney’s Asia head, Evan Jowers, has been formally advising Harvard Law students with such questions, as the Asia expert in Harvard Law’s “Ask The Experts Market Program” each summer and fall, with podcasts and scheduled phone calls. This has been an enjoyable and productive experience for all involved.
Whether you’re fresh off the bar exam or hitting your stride after hanging a shingle a few years ago, one thing’s for certain: independent attorneys who start a solo or small-law practice live with a certain amount of stress.
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