Still when I read something like this, I have a positively Maoist urge to force legal academics, and most particularly law school deans, to live life as it's lived by so many of their recent graduates, if only for a few months or weeks or days.
I do think that there are still many law jobs available—they just aren’t necessarily in the usual places that students look
Where are they?
Everywhere you look in society, it seems to me, there are people who need lawyers who can’t get them. Those may be people who are very poor and need public interest and pro bono lawyers, but they also may be individuals or families or small businesses that need lawyers and who are never going to be in a position to hire large commercial law firms.
The reason these people can't afford lawyers is because they don't have very much money. They may not be "poor," but can't afford to pay $400 or $300 or $200 or $100 an hour for legal services, or at least not for anything that's going to take more than a few hours of a lawyer's time. Dean Berman's point (I guess) is that maybe some of the more enterprising members of our legal proletariat ought to charge $50 an hour for their services. Except practicing law includes all sorts of fixed costs, and the more one tries to reduce those fixed costs by for example working out of one's home and meeting clients at Starbucks, the less likely it is that you'll have more than five clients a year, since even people who only have a couple of thousand bucks to drop on legal representation are understandably leery of paying somebody who doesn't really appear to be a lawyer to do legal work.
In addition, there are the enormous barrier to entry costs involved in being qualified to do even this, which in the case of Dean Berman's school are now running around 200K to 250K. Here's part of an email I got a few weeks ago:
I just graduated from GW Law School in the top 10% of my class and am still looking for employment. Needless to say, I can relate to many of the things you are saying and I appreciate voices like yours within the legal academy that are seriously addressing these issues.Dean Berman's school is ranked in the 90th percentile of the all-powerful USNWR list, so I guess his administrative predecessor was a big success, which I'm sure is some consolation to my correspondent. Then there's this:
When thinking about loans, students need to consider that the legal education is meant to prepare them for 40 or 50 years of practice, not simply the first year out of law school. The loans are a significant issue, but students should take the long view and think about their earning power as lawyers over the course of an entire career.This is apparently becoming something like the company line among law school deans, as I've heard several say very similar things in the last few months. I spent 15 minutes this morning reviewing all of the current job listings for alumni which are available through CU's placement office. Guess what: there are no jobs. Or rather, there are almost literally no jobs out there that don't require at least a couple of years of actual legal experience (not doc review). And what jobs there are tend to be things like being an associate for a small family law firm, with a salary between 40K and 49K (and they want three years litigation experience).
Here's what the people selling the "lifetime value of a law degree" line don't or rather don't want to understand: The lifetime value of a law degree is going to be negative if you don't get a real legal job within a couple of years of graduating. And more than half of ABA law school grads from the most recent classes haven't gotten real legal jobs. The employment stats are fake: they include an enormous amount of stuff that doesn't involve practicing or learning how to practice law. People doing those jobs are on their way out of a profession they never got into in the first place. In a year or two they'll be taking their law degrees off their resumes. It'll be as if they never went -- except for the six-figure non-dischargeable debt they incurred. That's what they'll have gotten out of law school.