Wednesday, September 21, 2011

20 years of schooling and they put you on the day shift

Everybody interested in the economics of the American legal profession is familiar with Bill Henderson's analysis of what he's identified as the bimodal distribution of reported entry-level salaries in the current market. Henderson notes this distribution didn't exist 20 years ago, when the median salary for entry-level hires who reported salary data to NALP was $40K, which happens to be exactly the same figure as in 2010, adjusted for inflation ($63K).

Henderson has done invaluable work in this area, and was as far as I know the first legal academic to sound the alarm about what the combination of rising tuition and changes in the market for legal services portended for law school graduates and legal education.  I do wish that he was more emphatic about the limitations of the data he's working with -- for example readers of the linked post, analyzing the NALP data for the class of 2008, could easily miss that the self-reported salary data (update: a commenter points out that while the data is self-reported by graduates to law schools, it's reported by law schools to NALP, which creates further opportunities for intentional and unintentional distortion) includes slightly more than half (22,305) of ABA-accredited law school grads for that year.  The 2009 data is even more problematic in this regard: only 19,471 out of approximately 44,000 graduates (44.25%) self-reported full-time salary information to NALP.

It's of course not surprising that general interest journalism stories, and even those in the legal press, report these figures as if they made up something other than a radically incomplete, unrepresentative, and unaudited data set, but those of us in legal academia concerned with this issue need to keep emphasizing how bad the NALP data is (It's still much better than the purported employment information USNWR reports however, which in turn is better than the job numbers advertised in the ABA Guide to law schools. Needless to say prospective law students are going to look at the latter sources rather than the former.)

Turning from bad data to real anecdotes, here are three such stories I've run into in just the past two days:

(1) A friend of mine, a Michigan law school grad from the class of 2009 who is finishing up a two-year stint on the staff of a federal court, is of course now looking for another job.  He applied for a similar position and was told that more than 1,000 applications had already been received for the two available spots.

(2) A local telecommunications firm put up an ad last week for a part-time legal clerk.  The ad made clear that law school graduates were not eligible to apply: only current law students qualified to be candidates for this part-time $20 per hour position (the position was filled within a couple of days).

(3)  Here's a current job listing from the city of Denver for a judicial assistant.  The job description, which was obviously written by a lawyer, sounds vaguely like entry-level associate work at a lot of big firms.  This position, however, requires only a high school diploma or GED, or "a combination of appropriate education and experience."  Almost all lawyers, however, are not actually qualified for this job, as the position also requires three years of clerical experience, of which two must be in a legal setting.  The salary range ($39,463.00 - $57,643.00) may at the low end overlap the actual current median salary of the law school class of 2010, and is almost certainly higher than the actual current median salary of the class of 2011 (Based on the preliminary data I've seen it seems probable that more than half of the 2011 class is at this moment completely unemployed -- and not just in regard to legal jobs, but in terms of having any job at all).

79 comments:

  1. Current law students have free access to Westlaw, while graduates do not. That's my guess for why the telecommunications firm excluded graduates. It would not be ethical for the student to use his access, but that's a different issue.

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  2. The salary range ($39,463.00 - $57,643.00) may at the low end overlap the actual current median salary of the law school class of 2010, and is almost certainly higher than the actual current median salary of the class of 2011

    I think most of the secretaries in my firm have salaries in that range, plus a nice benefits package. Needless to say, you don't need a post-graduate degree or a license to be a legal secretary.

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  3. Speaking of Westlaw, I see that they are advertising an Android app (Black's Law Dic) for $59.00! Westlaw and Lexis provide a service that should be much, much cheaper... perhaps free since the data is supposedly in the public domain.

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  4. Here's something else to consider - of the people making the 160K salaries after graduation, how many continue to make them beyond the point when they've finished paying off their debt? How many burn out before or shortly after that?

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  5. FOARP, another factor related to that issue is the apparent breakdown of the informal system by which big firms believed it was in their interest to help associates find other jobs when they were asked to leave (as the vast majority always have been). Again we don't have good data, but there's a lot of anecdotal evidence that big firm associates are now much more likely to simply be let go without any placement efforts on the part of their firm.

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  6. Biglaw paralegals can make a bunch of money too and I understand that JDs are generally not eligible.

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  7. The 1,000 applications for one or two spots occurs with every federal legal job. Happens all the time at the IRS. No, I'm not exaggerating or using hyperbole. I'm being literal. You have probably hundreds of thousands of scammed law grads trying to use the worthless credential they were sold to get jobs that essentially do not exist.

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  8. Carthage Must be Footnoted!September 21, 2011 at 8:02 AM

    I posted a while back that I thought our employment numbers were something like 33%/33%/33% -- one third of our students had Actual Full Time Permanent Jobs in law, one third had cobbled together part time/contract work, and one third had either nothing or were not working in law.

    After talking to a handful of my 3Ls from last year, I'm convinced my numbers were overly optimistic.

    At this point, I'd put our job rate at 25%, with another 12% doing contract or part time work. The rest of the class is flat unemployed. They still are holding out hope for a legal job, but they're beginning to talk about work that doesn't require a law degree. Those numbers will drift upwards as we head to the nine-month mark, but I don't think we'll even get to the 66% employed in law mark, not by a long stretch.

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  9. CMbF, what sort of school are you at?

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  10. I don't understand the reference of the post's title?

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  11. Collecting job data 5 and 10 years out would be incredibly informative.

    You're going to suffer a lot of the same problems of under reporting (they'll have lost track of many students, and more will just dump the survey in the trash), but it'd be a lot better than nothing.

    Your first job is very important and has a huge influence over the rest of your career, but the rest of your career, the 30-50 years after the 9 month mark, is pretty important also, and almost entirely overlooked except when someone wants to brag about a graduate becoming a judge, or a congressman, or manager of a baseball team.

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  12. "Speaking of Westlaw, I see that they are advertising an Android app (Black's Law Dic) for $59.00!"

    This is another barrier to law practice economics. Westlaw and Lexis have a monopoly, that they use to demand biglaw level billing rates.

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  13. re: West and Lexis, has anyone looked in to Bloomberg? Whatever happened with that?

    If I recall correctly, they had a flat fee that came with unlimited access. If the cost is reasonable, it'd be great for someone opening their own shop. Being young and inexperienced means a lot of dead ends on research. Not knowing what you're doing on West or Lexis gets expensive, but a flat fee lets you mess up, read up on areas of law you don't have client matters on, etc.

    Also, most statutes and regulations can be pretty easily found on government sites, so don't go to L/W for those. Try to limit your use to actual court cases.

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  14. Lexis and Westlaw don't charge biglaw rates to everyone...

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  15. Thanks for that informative response.

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  16. Have you ever used it? It's a total POS. Take statutes for example. Let's say you want to find a statute or just browse the table of contents. You have to go into the statute, then back out to view the table of contents. The cases aren’t much better. I’ve used the Lexis platform (during one of those free periods they rarely give out to associates) and Bloomberg for the same project and the Lexis results were indexed much better and included several key cases that were not on Bloomberg. Bloomberg also doesn’t have any kind of a headnote system which is a huge drawback. If you don’t know an area of law very well those headnotes are a godsend. Like I said, Bloomberg sucks.

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  17. What kind of placement services are you talking about? My firm does and I know several others that do. I forget the name of the company, but they service a lot of larger law firms and help with resume prep, etc. Market for most larger firms is also three months severance where you are paid, stay on the firm website and are considered employed. While the job market is shit and people are still having a hard time finding jobs, what else would you have the firm do?

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  18. @8:36: it's a line from a Bob Dylan song.

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  19. "I forget the name of the company, but they service a lot of larger law firms and help with resume prep, etc."

    I hope there's something of actual value lurking somewhere in that etc.

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  20. Market for most larger firms is also three months severance where you are paid, stay on the firm website and are considered employed.

    FWIW, my firm (midlaw, not biglaw) lets people stay on while they look for another job. The period has varied from a few months to almost a year in one case. I don't think we've ever shown someone the door before s/he had another position lined up.

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  21. I think he was suggesting that the idea that firms no longer do outplacing was not correct.

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  22. LawProf, please note that the data (including salary data) that NALP collects and shares is often NOT "self-reported" by the grads. Schools have control over the data and are free to alter the respondents' submissions or supply information on behalf of non-respondents. This means that schools may pick and choose what is submitted, and they have the opportunity to make the most optimistic assumptions possible about grads who haven't reported in.

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  23. @9:01: I only used it for reading articles, for which I found it to be pretty good. Sucks that it's not good for case law research.

    As for Lexis/West costs generally, a good way to keep your costs down is to read articles available free online (Wikipedia, big firm white papers, client alerts, industry blogs, etc) to get the names of the key cases, and then jump straight to the case on L/W. You can then go around through Shephards, headnotes, etc, to find other cases, cutting out the expensive search. Also, many cases will be available online, so you can skim over them before opening a bunch of irrelevant junk.

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  24. On gathering information, just how is this to be done beyond sending out surveys? As an earlier comment pointed out, it's pretty easy to find out where people live. How, besides self reports, do schools find out where people work and how much money they make?

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  25. Surveying is probably the best method.

    An alternative would be using something like LinkedIn to track down graduates. It won't tell you how much they're making, but you can at least learn what jobs they're in. A drawback of course is that you're limited to people who use whatever platform you're looking at.

    With surveys, the key will be to have the information collected by a third party. The data is self reported by graduates, but you eliminate the self reporting by law schools filter.

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  26. So, the thinking is that people are likely to respond in greater numbers if third parties conduct the surveys. The law school filter is a concern that goes to the integrity of the survey-- what outsiders think about it. You eliminate that by having a third party. But what does that have to do with the behavior of the graduates in terms of their willingness to cooperate? Is there reason to think that more law graduates will answer a request by a third party than they would answer a request from the law school?

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  27. I would be much LESS likely to respond to a third party survey unless it came from a very well established organization.

    But, having the school send the survey is different from having it collect the responses. The survey could be sent directly to the 3rd party, or collected by the school and handed over unopened. Or, probably the best option is an online survey. The school sends you the link, and the third party gets the information.

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  28. Okay, so you won't get any greater number of responses. You will just have the third party report the results.

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  29. You know, BL1Y, for someone who spends all day commenting on the internet, you're awful strict when it comes to giving a few minutes of your time to a survey or petition. Just saying.

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  30. 8:36 (and 9:12): The title of the post is from "Subterranean Homesick Blues" (which is, as 9:12 notes, by Bob Dylan). And the song has been stuck in my head since I first glanced at today's post...

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  31. @Carthage

    This is to say nothing of the fact that a huge number of those 25% employed full-time in law aren't making anything close to a BIGLAW salary (or even enough to discharge their debts in less than a decade).

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  32. I'm class of 2010 and I still don't have a job. Well, I do have a job but it's not in the legal field or anywhere you'd expect from being a law school graduate. The closest I came to doing actual paid legal work was when an attorney offered me $120 for each appearance I'd make for him. Sadly, I had to reject the deal. I found out the attorney has a disciplinary history from another state and he is still suspended in that state. As such, he is not allowed to practice here in California. I strongly suspect he was taking in clients and needed a licensed attorney to carry on the work. I left a message with his secretary telling him I'm exploring other opportunities and would not be able to pursue this employment.

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  33. I'm counting down the days until this SHITTY country completely COLLAPSES.

    Law school scam.

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  34. P.S. I'm from the class of 2010 as well.

    WHAT A JOKE!

    Law school scam.

    Trust me when I say I will hunt down each professor, each dean, each filthy pig.

    They will suffer for what they've done.

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  35. We need a Consumer Reports-worthy site for graduate employment statistics. Perhaps we could get Consumer Reports to devote itself to the undertaking of accurately finding/reporting this data.

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  36. The new Rick Perry campaign commercial with its movie trailer style accurately captures what will sweep the country in the coming year. President Obama, for all his efforts, has ultimately failed in what may have been an impossible task: turning the country's economy around. Expect massive cuts in education and the elimination of IBR. The Tea Party will rear its head once again in 2012, but, sadly, we must endure 4 years of drastic austerity measures before the country wakes up to the fact that the world has changed and that no party has the capacity to correct these issues.

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  37. If IBR gets eliminated many, including me, will ROCKET into default. I can't pay $2,000 a month lol. Just not going to happen.

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  38. As Ive said before, it will benefit all of us in the long run if all the deferrments and IBR/ICR are completely eliminated. No more bullshit cover for the system. Let it collapse already so we can start over.

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  39. Make everybody pay the going price and here is what happens in fact: http://tinyurl.com/639wj2k
    There are no simple solutions to these problems.

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  40. Excellent link, Law Office Computing. I work at Georgetown Law Center, and I can assure you that we are actively recruiting students overseas because we know that poor people don't make good donors and due to the inability of poors to make the cultural leap beyond the entrenched socioeconomic stratification that predated them.

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  41. One idea that may work better is to BAN any type of marketing of potential law school prospects (such as showing the few past successful alumni or providing ANY kind of statistics) and instead issue a Surgeon General type disclaimer and warning in BOLD PRINT and make all 0Ls sign it:

    It would read something like:
    Graduating law school only results in obtaining a JD and a chance to take the bar exam. No representations (expressed or implied) are being made as to whether the cost of attending our law school will prove to be worth the cost in time and money to you. Many students graduate from law school without being able to obtain renumerative employment that will service their law school debt and you must consider the possibility that you may be one of them and decide whether the risk of attending outweighs the benefits.

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  42. Yes, that disclaimer would be great IF they can't ever get around to telling us what the REAL NUMBERS are.

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  43. I've developed more of a "let it burn" attitude in the last few years, and I see the same in friends and colleagues my age. I am ready for the collapse to come, whatever the outcome. If I die, I die. There are fates worse than death. I don't think it bodes well for the near term future. Maybe better long term.

    "Where we're standing right now, in the ruins in the dark, what we build could be anything."

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  44. 12:51 - I like your disclaimer.

    12:55 - I think that one aspect that has gotten glossed over in this discussion of "REAL NUMBERS" is that the real numbers have shifted drastically downwards over the past 3-4 years. In fact, when the discussion of "lost classes" started on ATL, the tone was less "law school scam" and more "economy tanked, grads hung out to dry." In reality, as we now know, the truth is some of both: some/many law schools have misrepresented their employment numbers AND the percentages of legally-employed graduates at many schools have decreased due to the economy. Even if issue #1 is wholly corrected, issue #2 will persist as future economic crises occur. Thus, *in addition to* more accurate disclosure of numbers, I definitely think that 0Ls should be given some manner of "Past successes [of law school in placing graduates in legal jobs] are not necessarily indicative of future performance" disclaimer. Note that the latter should be blindingly obvious to anyone over the age of 10, but since it is apparently not, I would support making the point explicit.

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  45. I don't want to die.

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  46. 1:16: My first hint that there might be something wrong came five years ago, when the economy was apparently booming and big firms had just jacked up their starting salaries to 160K. That year's graduating class at CU had a number of particularly bright and motivated students who got good grades, and yet mysteriously seemed to be having trouble getting jobs. That, I think, was a symptom of a structural change in legal employment that predated the recession, which has just put a huge exclamation point on a problem that has been building for many years, as legal practice has gotten increasingly rationalized in economic terms.

    Also, note that law school statistics as they are reported are inherently deeply misleading. That's a problem that has nothing to do with individual schools breaking the rules, although that happens as well.

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  47. @1.16 - Here's the thing: people take post-graduate education as 1) a way of giving themselves an edge in a bad economy, 2) retraining to escape from a poorly-performing industry, and 3) a way of hiding the fact that they were de facto un-employed during the relevant period. People considering studying law for the above reasons need to know that actually law has significant issues which make it not such a great choice.

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  48. And what is even more alarming is that many of us were part of pre-law programs at universities that actively encouraged placement at any and every school, regardless of tier. Little did we know that we were only achieving the goals of the programs to get people into law school, never realizing that our own interests were being screwed. Everything my life has become is a far cry from what I thought it would be involving the thrilling yet daunting LSAT prep, all the preparation and time involved with my personal statement, the excitement of being accepted, etc.

    Now, on the other end of all of that, I feel like a monumental fool. I find it very difficult to explain to my family why a graduate of law school with all this debt can find no job. Perhaps it is something that only people on the "inside" can relate to and understand. Having no lawyers in my family, it is difficult concept to communicate. I don't think I was ever naive enough to think that getting an advanced degree in just anything would provide me some form of economic security in this economy, but I surely never thought that a law degree would leave me in the financial, professional and, yes, emotional state I presently occupy. Sadly, I have come to the inevitable conclusion that certain forms of education and their corresponding debt load can ruin one's financial future, and there's nothing I can do about it.

    In my mind, I foolishly hope that I can be reincarnated(if such a thing even exists---though such despair does make one reach for things beyond the rational realm) once I leave this life and, hopefully, I can make things right next time.

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  49. I find your endless focus on transparency in job placement very strange. Is this because it is the bare minimum you can do and still feel like you can sleep at night? It is a side issue. The main issue is the steep tuition schools charge based on a false market of guaranteed loans. Full stop. End of story. People will still attend grad schools when they don't have a livable wage or a secure future because the govt will pay for at least those years, future ramifications be damned and at least they have that lottery ticket of a biglaw job to hang their hat on.

    A couple of generations ago we used to give help to those starting out in life so that they could succeed in their careers - at the very least we didn't saddle them with a mountain of debt to educate themselves...today its extract from the young as much as possible because, you know, their future salaries are a commodity to be divided up on a monthly basis so that people like Prof Campos can have well paying, secure jobs.

    Enough with this transparency crapola. Its a fine thing but will not a do a damn thing to the structural issues. But so glad you're spending so much time and effort on it, Campos. Better than doing nothing, I guess. And better than all of your colleagues. So there's that. Hope you feel proud.

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  50. The time has come. lynch mobs are the ONLY solution.

    RISE UP.

    DEATH TO THE LAW SCHOOL SCAM!

    My life is ruined. Time for me to ruin some lives. REVENGE IS SWEET.

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  51. Yeah, all of it is a big scam. Who gives a shit about contrapositives now? All of it is a waste. We should just let the rich elites ascend the ranks of law as the rest of the population is quickly priced out of contention. Maybe we can treat ourselves to the crumbs that fall from their table.

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  52. This system is creating a generation of caged animals. Let's remind them of how caged animals respond.

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  53. The interpretation of decreasing crime statistics is a false read on the current economy. Those statistics are synonymous with the quiet before the storm and the slow boil that lurks just beneath the surface. Once the pressures becomes too great, everything that quietly lurked beneath the surface will boil over suddenly and alarmingly.

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  54. I'm one of those animals. AND I'VE HAD ENOUGH.

    ENOUGH!

    The time for a RESPONSE has arrived. RISE UP.

    RISE THE FUCK UP.

    Fuck these law school scammers.

    FUCK THEM. AND FUCK THIS SHITTY COUNTRY.

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  55. Would you stfu already, AthiestATLLawyer, you loser computer nerd who is scared to leave his house? If you have any balls head down to your former school and protest. Otherwise save it for your World of Warcraft clan.

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  56. @ LawProf

    Instead of "transparency", why not just ban any marketing and statistics of law school prospects and have a somber disclaimer that students have to sign warning them that there is a very high likelihood that law school won't pay off as suggest @12:51.

    That should be good for the law schools too so that they can't be sued for fraudulently inducing naive students or being accused of making "false promises".

    At the same time if this is made explicit, 0Ls then can make a decision with full knowledge that they are taking a big gamble. And if they STILL choose to do so, then that is their risk to take but at least they did it with eyes open.

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  57. 3:05, one problem with that is that just because you agree to something doesn't mean you read it. Think of all the credit card, software and other agreements you've signed because you didn't want to read 10 pages of boilerplate?

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  58. @2:46 - steroid boy is back

    @3:05 - so with transparency its still OK to demand $36 thou for tuition? Law Schools will still teach us how to be attorneys (not) for that $36,000?

    What a diversion from the real issues....this is like inspecting shoes of air travelers after the shoe bomber made his attempt.

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  59. @ 3:06

    If the "disclaimer" was 10 pages of legalese then yes that would be true. But if it were one page consisting of one paragraph in bold print, I think the chances of it being read is pretty high.

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  60. @ 3:11

    No I am not saying it is okay to charge such a huge amount of tuition or for law schools to teach little of actual practice by professors that have not practiced themselves.

    But ultimately tuition and oversupply of law grads will ONLY be dealt with when applications plummet. And they only way to make it plummet is two-fold:

    1) Force all 0Ls to understand the risk of going. A
    strongly worded disclaimer that the risk of law school paying off is low and making 0Ls sign it would certainly help!

    2) Limit the amount students can borrow, perhaps tied to IBR rates, make it at least partially dischargeable and force the law schools to have skin in the game so that when their students lose, they lose some too.

    Only these steps will work IMHO.

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  61. @3:17 - I can agree to that. But step 1 won't do much without step 2 which is why I find the focus on step 1 so strange.

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  62. 3:12, combine that one page bold document with perhaps a few hours of education about the law school scam and yes that should work.

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  63. Does anyone know what the average salary for the dean of a public law school is? Or what the salary range might be? Where/how could I find out?

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  64. It's about $350k 4:15. More for higher ranked schools.

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  65. The readers/participants of this Blog are not the only people worried about the substance of modern legal education. A blueprint for moving forward can be found here. http://tinyurl.com/3fh2zs8

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  66. @1:59 p.m.:

    Transparency is the least controversial reform being proposed.

    If you've got what it takes to convince law schools to charge less, or to convince the Department of Education to change the terms of funding graduate education for law schools alone, then you have my blessing to do whatever you can on those fronts.

    The first step, as the addicts say, is admitting you have a problem. Until we quantify how bad the problem is, why would anything change?

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  67. This is my advice to students ...
    DO NOT attend a 2nd, 3rd, or 4th T Law School.... You WILL not get a job....

    Recruiters go to the Top 10 Top 14 Schools

    Look up the Top 250 Law Firms and check where they are doing their recruiting in August... If you attended one of the above schools, you will notice your school is not listed... They are not interested in you. Save your money.

    The students of the Top 10 Law Schools leave with 4, 5 offers .. I have a friend who got 11... Yes 11!

    I have another friend who attended Loyola in Chicago (#71) Graduated in 2010 and
    did not get one offer....

    If you get accepted to a top 10 school GO!... Top 25... to Top 50, Iffy.... Any
    School lower than that say ..Thanks.. But NO Thanks!

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  68. This is what happens when law schools lie:

    FrankDux (Sep 21 - 6:52 pm)

    Ok, so i've known that it's really bad out there....but, wow, now I really feel bad.

    My boss put an ad out today for a part-time secretary/clerk to order medical records and obtain Medicare lien amounts. The girl who was doing it before was a joke and barely showed up so my boss got rid of her.

    3 hours later my boss calls me into his office to tell me he already had over 50 relpies and most of them were JDs or licensed attorneys. I really felt bad at that moment. He said "I can't hire any of them because once they find an attorney position they will leave in a second."

    http://qfora.com/jdu/thread.php?threadId=20609

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  69. "It's hard to find any product, save crack cocaine, that causes ruin for 85 percent of it's users." ---- Ron Susskind

    An observation that one could apply to law school.

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  70. Could you imagine a medical office putting out an ad for a nurse's assistant (the person who takes your blood pressure and other easy tasks) or an administrator, and having hundreds of licensed MDs apply for that job?

    But no matter how often you point out stories like this, you will still have people like Brian Leiter refusing to fix what is obviously a heartbreaking and outrageous problem.

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  71. @8.17 - Jesus Christ. Relevant comment from the same thread:

    "Do restaurants in LA fear their servers striking it big in Hollywood? The odds of the transition seem about similar in many cases."

    Good example of how some qualifications leave people over-qualified for a high-level entry but under-qualified for a low-level entry.

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  72. What would be a better investment of time for a 22 year old?

    (a) Spend three years in Hollywood waiting tables and trying to make it as a movie star, or

    (b) Spend three years at a tier 2/3/4 law school?

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  73. PS - Oh, but I guess there's still places open at the Pittsburgh Steelers for those management jobs you need a law degree to get.

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  74. "Good example of how some qualifications leave people over-qualified for a high-level entry but under-qualified for a low-level entry."

    Shoot. Other way round.

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  75. I really think it's time for you lawyers and young lawyers to get together and march on Washington. It would be a real wake up for the country if we could get say a 100,000 out of work attorney's and law students marching on the capital. I'm not an attorney, just the father of a 2011 grad and now a sworn in attorney. He has a temp job in the legal field, but he could make more money as a bus-boy.

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  76. 9:10 pm: Leiter, like Henderson and Tamanaha, has been calling attention to fraudulent placement stats and calling for more transparency for years. Campos is a latecomer to all this. Leiter's Rant about Campos is just some weird personal thing, if you follow his blog, you would know he's written about this and always calls attention to Henderson's and Tamanaha's work.

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  77. I'd prefer to march on just one school.

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  78. Ahh. More examples of the ole JD degree opening doors for you.

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