Anyway, despite his over-confidence about how we had to be living on the eve of destruction, the question his critique of law schools and the legal profession -- which while somewhat overstated was nevertheless largely accurate -- raised ("how long can things go on like this?") was and is a good one.
I certainly don't claim to know the answer, but let's look at a few basic numbers.
First, on the supply side: Those of us in the business of cranking out people with law degrees can sometime forget that far more people take the LSAT every year than there are spots in ABA-accredited law schools. In the last academic year the ratio, even taking into account repeat takers, was in the neighborhood of 3 to 1. (Note that on a per capita basis Peak LSAT seems to have been achieved 20 years ago: the U.S. population was 20% larger in 2010 than in 1990. And although I wasn't paying any attention at the time I imagine there must have been quite a flurry of panic among law school administrator types in the late 1990s, when test taking per capita was off nearly 50% from its high at the beginning of the decade).
These numbers suggest we're still nowhere close to seeing anything like a shortage of people willing to fork out their own or their parents' money, or far more commonly, borrow ever-increasing sums of taxpayer dollars, to go to law school. Subject to rare exceptions, you can't get into even a third tier school if you score in the bottom half of the LSAT, which of course means there are a lot of rich and/or reckless kids who would like to go to law school who still can't. In other words, as long as the federal loan structure remains the same, law schools can probably continue jacking up tuition and cranking out more and more graduates who will never make an adequate living practicing law.
Increased transparency about all this is important as a moral and practical matter, mainly because it costs almost nothing to implement and it will save some people from making life-wrecking mistakes, but the idea that law school transparency will by itself solve the basic supply and demand problem is almost surely wrong. Consider this post from an LSAT prep site, which actually highlights both the scam blog movement and the bimodal distribution salary data for the potential benefit of its
If you’re considering law school, the first thing to do is attempt to calculate the ratio of probable debt to probable earnings. According to Forbes, the average law graduate is $100,000 in debt. To translate this into real terms, 100,000 of debt with 6% interest necessitates $1,400 a month in income just to service the $850 a month it will cost you to pay off the loan in fifteen years. And that’s before you’ve laid out a cent on food, a mortgage, a car payment, or the new waffle weave Henley from L.L. Bean.Sounds very level-headed and sensible doesn't it? What the heck is something like this doing on an LSAT prep site you might wonder? Read on:
Of course, it’s difficult to foretell what your earning potential is likely to be, given the disparity in payment levels even among students from the same school. For instance, I know of two graduates from Southwestern Law School. Both were on law review, but one was employed by an AM-Law top 50 firm upon graduation while the other was hired by a less prestigious firm. The former started at about $160k annually, whereas the other started at about $80k. Ironically, their law firms are in adjacent buildings with the more prestigious firm on the higher floor. The latter literally spends her days looking up at her former classmate.I don't want to be too hard on the people running this site, because after all in just this one post they're providing potential law students with a lot more candid information than can be found in the entire ABA Guide, but consider how potential law students will read this paragraph. My guess is that they'll think that there are two likely scenarios if you do well (which of course they all believe they will) at a third-tier law school. The good scenario is getting a starting salary of $160K a year, which will of course grow over the years. The bad scenario is a starting salary of $80K, which the authors of web site try to warn them isn't so great if you have $100K in debt, but even so is pretty manageable, especially as your salary grows and your debt declines over time.
How much consciousness-raising must be done to dispel this kind of nonsense? Obviously a whole lot. In the short term, the only kind of reality therapy that would probably make a difference to most potential law students is cutting off the federal loan money and making sure that private loans going forward remain dischargeable in bankruptcy (The worst possible change that could be made to the system would be to greatly cut back on federal direct lending while making the private law school loans that would take the place of federal lending non-dischargeable. There's a good chance something like that will be what happens when current federal educational lending practices become a public scandal).
The bottom line is that we're only at the very beginning of a reform process that continues to face immense structural barriers at every turn. Again, law school transparency is very much just a first step. But as the proverb has it that's what a long journey must begin with.