Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Mistaken beliefs about the crisis of the American law school: "It's the economy"

Recently I had dinner with a friend who teaches at a top ten law school.  He's well aware of how bad things have gotten, comparatively speaking, for his school's graduates, and spoke candidly about the extent to which his school and others like it are resorting increasingly to hiring their own graduates into short-term post-graduate positions. (Some numbers:  Cornell hired 6 of its own grads in 2010 and 26 in 2011. Columbia hired ten grads in 2010 and 38 in 2011. Virginia hired 10 grads in 2009, 40 in 2010, and 64 -- 17% of its class -- in 2011.)

I noted his school had once again increased tuition in real dollars (that is, more than inflation) for 2012, and asked him if he had any idea what his school's administration was thinking.  He told me they're thinking that this is all a temporary blip, driven by the recession, and that "soon" the big firms will be hiring as many entry-level associates as they were five years ago, and we can leave all this unpleasantness behind us (he himself is skeptical about whether this will actually happen).

I run into this line of thinking all the time, including at schools where it doesn't even make superficial sense -- which is to say at the 80% of law schools which at no time have sent more than 10% of their grads to big firms.  This is just the most obvious problem with the "it's the economy" response many legal academics and especially law school administrators tend to have when confronted with the increasingly dire employment and salary statistics of their graduates.

Columbia and Cornell and Virginia may be able to rationalize their current tuition structure if and when big firms get back to hiring as many entry-level associates as they were hiring five years ago (although even most elite schools must be approaching tuition levels that can't be raised much above inflation going forward -- is Cornell really going to be charging $78,000 per year by the end of the decade?), but what about the dozens and dozens of schools that decided they could charge nearly as much as the elites, even though even at the best of times only a handful of their graduates were getting jobs that justified such prices?

Here's another big problem with the "it's the economy" excuse for doing nothing, or burbling about helping graduates pursue (largely imaginary) alternative careers outside of traditional legal practice:  A general economic recovery, to the extent one takes place, is likely to hurt legal academia's bottom line more than it will help it.  To see why this is the case, consider this story, which indicates that for college graduates the opportunity cost of going to law school remains at something approaching an all-time low.  If more than half of all recent college graduates are un- or under-employed, this should be a positive boon to law school admissions numbers, since the real cost of going to law school is much lower than it would be if applicants could get decent jobs upon graduating from college.

Instead, despite the awful employment market for new college grads, the applicant pool for law school is crashing.  Now what do you suppose is going to happen to law school applications when, in the context of a general economic recovery, recent college grads consider whether they want to take a $40,000 job doing 40 hours of boring work per week, or whether, in the alternative, they should pursue the "prestige" inherent in a job that pays about the same salary, but requires 60 hours per week of equally if not more unpleasant work, but which also requires removing yourself from the labor market for three years and taking on $150,000 of high interest debt for the privilege of acquiring it? Which is to say that if the opportunity cost of going to law school rises more quickly than whatever job and wage growth takes place in the legal sector, then such growth as does take place is not going to help law schools out of their current predicament.

Put bluntly, nobody who has anything resembling a halfway decent alternative is going to sign up for the kinds of legal jobs most law graduates who are even getting legal jobs at all are currently getting, and likely to get going forward.  In other words, if and when the overall economy gets significantly better than it is now, the cost-benefit structure of legal education will appear absurd on its face to even more potential applicants than it does at present. 


65 comments:

  1. Are you saying "it is only the current economy" is a myth? or are you saying "it is partly the current economy" is a myth?

    If the former, I would agree.

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  2. Don't be silly. When the Big Law Firms announce that starting salaries for first-year associates are 200k a year plus bonus, applications will surge again.

    Because on 250k a year, it's not too hard to make a 1500 a month loan payment.

    In effect, a small part of the excesses of Big Law Firms is being used to subsidize legal scholarship. And why is it so terrible? If a Big Law Firm partner makes 2 or 3 million a year to shuffle paper, why shouldn't a law professor make 10 percent of that amount?

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  3. Maybe because those 2 or 3 million (I find this figure a bit exaggerated) don't come from scamming young and scared people.

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  4. The law school scam is a small part of the great movement of assets from the 99% to the 1%. Without loans, tuitions could not rise the way they have. Instead of supporting public educational institutions for the public benefit education creates, we have turned them into profit centers for the financial industry (which, incredibly, succeeded in making these loans non-dischargeable). It is part of the increasing privatization of public assets that benefits the 1% (those who have a large stake in the financial sector) at the expense of the 99%. This scam, and many others, will not stop until we wrest power and control from the financial industry. First, the entire real estate system was taken over by the financial industry. Then, the financial industry took control of industry as a whole. (What happened to the days when bank would loan to start a new business?) Now, the educational system is increasingly controlled by the financial industry. Soon, roads and other public infrastructure will be sold to the financial sector, which will then charge for using what taxpayers paid for. Bain Capital will become the model for financing public goods.

    This will be the conflict that will define the next generation (or 2 or 3). Perhaps all of the young attorneys who have been scammed into thinking that lifelong servitude to the financial sector is a good "investment" will lead the charge.

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  5. Optimistic LyricistApril 24, 2012 at 6:49 AM

    And why does this law professor or any administrator think that hiring is going to rebound so dramatically? Citigroup put together a survey recently of 96% of the AmLaw 100 - and every single big law shop that responded said the same thing. Hiring has shrunk dramatically and is not going to change anytime soon - because demand is flat across the board. All firms are hiring fewer people - and they do not expect this to change anytime soon. It is amazing to me that there are people in positions of power that are making these stupid assertions - when law firm executive committees have made it abundantly clear - that hiring is not going to return to pre-recession levels. And this strategy of wishful thinking does nothing for the schools whose graduates are typically locked out of big law.

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  6. Why is it simply taken for granted that it's acceptable for law schools to increase tuition every year as long as it’s “only to keep up with inflation?” I can't think of many other industries where it's taken for granted that firms will increase the price of their goods/services every single year by at least 3% regardless of the current demand for/value of those goods/services. The value of a law degree has declined substantially in the past several decades, yet schools like Northwestern are ready to throw themselves a parade for “only” increasing tuition by 3%. Tuition is already way too high, so why are we not calling out law schools for their “we're only increasing tuition to keep up with inflation because we’re sensitive to our students” nonsense? (Granted many schools are still increasing tuition at rates far above 3%.)

    I wonder how many years Northwestern could freeze tuition completely before the cost of attendance got back to where it was in the ‘70s in terms of “real dollars.” Now, of course, Northwestern would never actually do this because they might have to get rid of their “interstellar space law journal,” put off building that new high-tech moot court room that will get used twice a year, require tenured professors to teach more than 1-2 classes a semester, or even (gasp!) freeze professor salaries, and we simply can’t have that. Northwestern might lose some of their “star” professors, who provide such invaluable “legal scholarship” to other schools or to industry (where we all know they could all be making $500,000+ a year if they wanted to). And then who would write articles on medieval agrarian law? Better to keep bilking your students while convincing them that you’re doing them a favor.

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  7. Do you mean "its the economy" in terms of "this will end one day soon"?

    I agree with 6:09 that your post needs clarification. I am adding that I don't understand how saying its the economy, not just the current economy, makes sense at all unless they think that means its temporary?

    Do they review economic data about wage stagnation? About the increasing severity of both the length and damage done by recessions since WW2? About underemployment? And malemployment? I guess what I am asking is - do they live in a bubble if they are saying its temporary?

    This is important question because it matters to whether their opinions have any basis in reality in the first place.

    That's why I ask do they live in a bubble. I guess I assumed that top tier academics would be unaware of the realities of the American economy since its discussed in academic circles by people like Elizabeth Warren, etc. Don't they read books by others in the profession?


    Bruh Rabbit

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  8. By the way, I am skirting what I really want to say. So, let me just say it:

    I think the answers of your friends are self serving rationalizations.

    Bruh Rabbit

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  9. Law Prof. How much do these law school jobs pay? How long do they last? Hiring your own graduates is just another scam. How can law schools turn out ethical lawyers when they are not ethical themselves?

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  10. Translation of your friend's statement into English:

    "I try not to think too much about tuition and debt as it's an unpleasant topic. I enjoy my job and our nice dinner. Unlike you, Campos, I'm not going to bite the hand. When the system comes crashing down, hopefully I've already gotten mine."

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  11. You cannot use the people Law Prof talks to as stand ins for every law professor. This is not a knock on Law Prof. It is just the nature of things. There are, what, 17k law faculty. If he talked to 50 about this particular topic, it would not come close to being representative.

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  12. Actually 50 professors would be representative if they were randomly selected.

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  13. @8:58, no, I would guess closer to 1/3 of 17k. And, if "proof is in the pudding", I would say the proportion of professors sharing this view is a lot higher than you seem to want to admit. Maybe you're just a troll.

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  14. Do you think he has randomly selected them? From what he said it did not sound close to fifty. He said he ran into this line of thinking all the time. It's not even clear from that that he was only talking to law professors. I think he mentioned in an earlier post that he was not one for attending conferences. So, this could just be a handful of folks he knows. That says something, but not enough to make the claim that this represents the views of legal academia.

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  15. I may be a troll if you think that the comment section of a blog should consist of people who all agree on every point and echo every one else's comments. I agree with much of what Law Prof says, and some things I don't agree with.

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  16. "How can law schools turn out ethical lawyers when they are not ethical themselves?" Good point. According to the Carnegie Report, one of the law schools' three missions is to turn out ethical and professional lawyers. The law schools are not turning out ethical and professional lawyers. They are turning out lawyers who fudge, lie, and cheat whenever it is in their own interest. No wonder the public distrusts lawyers when deans serve as role models for students.

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  17. Well, that's why I said "maybe". I guess my question would be, based on the very few that have spoke publicly on the issue, and the overall pattern of law schools continuing down the same old beaten path, why do you feel it is a more important point to discuss the potential (unfounded from my point of view) that not all law professors feel the way LP's friend does. Seems like pointing to one minor tree that you don't necessarily have the expertise to correctly identify, while ignoring the forest that is the main point of the entry. That won't do well on law school exams.

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  18. The professor from the top ten law school is living in an Ivory Tower.

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  19. I should emphasize my friend is agnostic on the question of whether and the extent to which big firm hiring is going to bounce back (which is largely irrelevant to most law schools anyway, except to the extent a bounce back means less Columbia grads trying to get jobs with 20-lawyer firms in Colorado). I actually don't have a good sense of how many law professors are in denial, and how many are just keeping their heads down. Obviously very few are yet willing to go on record that there's a real crisis.

    And I've gotten signs from even a couple of law school deans lately that the overall level of denial is starting to lessen.

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  20. It's more than a crisis.

    It's a fundamental implosion of the status quo.

    Keep up the good work, the quickest way to destroy the Law Schools is to "starve the beast." Even the corrupt U.S government can't provide loan money when student's don't exist to take the loans.

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  21. Optimistic LyricistApril 24, 2012 at 10:25 AM

    LawProf - I agree that big firm hiring is irrelevant to the outcomes facing most law students at most schools. But the top schools are a big part of the aspirational aspect of becoming a lawyer. And my problem with your friend's comment is that there is real data out there showing that law firm hiring has cratered - and the law firms themselves will tell you that it is not coming back. It's not a big secret. So why does anyone think that putting their head in the sand is a viable plan?

    I agree with your larger point about the structural problems with legal education. There are too many law schools graduating too many students - all financed with large federally guaranteed loans that cannot be discharged in bankruptcy. And those schools are not being honest about the employment prospects of their students. And like the housing crisis - everyone but the borrower makes money at every step of the way - but no one has an economic incentive to say no. It's just caveat emptor and a few hail mary's and off everyone goes.

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  22. LawProf,

    Apparently, these academics are dense. They are not aware that automation of many services has definitely impacted the legal field?!?! Several news stories have shown that Biglaw clients don't like the idea of paying $400 an hour, so a new associate can learn how to practice. Who is going to win that argument?!

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  23. Optimistic LyricistApril 24, 2012 at 10:42 AM

    And I think that the discussion about reforming law school training is a complete red herring. For example - Catholic law school in DC - has a great training program. I worked closely with two people who went to Catholic and really learned a lot in their certification programs. But they also graduated near the top of their class. They are both doing well. But unless you are at or near the top of your class at Catholic you are unlikely to get a job that will let you pay off your loans. It isn't because you are not smart enough or well training enough. It's because Catholic grads have to compete with graduates from Georgetown, Cornell, UVA, Yale, Michigan, Penn, Duke, Northwestern, and all of the other higher ranked schools that see DC as a safer market.

    The law school training method isn't broken. The law school employment model is broken. Firms, government agencies, non-profits etc...were and continue to be happy to train their new lawyers - as long as their work/budget is adequate. The pushback on training and education is directly linked to resources. When times were good - people were happy to train a lot of new attorney's the "right way." Now - client demand has remained flat for the 3rd or 4th year - and government budgets are being cut, as are grants and other funding sources. So legal employers are looking for a much smaller number of new attorneys - along with an increasing number of people with experience.

    But employers aren't going to simply start hiring more fresh graduates if schools magically expand clinical training. Someone who managed to hang on during the downturn and get experience is going to be a better bet than a fresh graduate - even if that graduate took every drafting class known to man. And so the cycle of employment inequity will continue. People who get their foot in the door, will gain valuable experience, and be able to leverage that experience to get other jobs. New graduates who are shut out - will continue to suffer from a lack of experience (not just training). And the law schools will continue to cash the loan checks - and minimize the employment outcomes - so the system can continue.

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  24. Optimistic Lyricist, could you post a link to the Citi study if it's on line? I looked for it and found a couple of related things but I think you may be referring to something else.

    I agree that the angst about training is comparable to worrying about a leaky faucet when the house is on fire.

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  25. "Now what do you suppose is going to happen to law school applications when, in the context of a general economic recovery, recent college grads consider whether they want to take a $40,000 job doing 40 hours of boring work per week, or whether, in the alternative, they should pursue the "prestige" inherent in a job that pays about the same salary, but requires 60 hours per week of equally if not more unpleasant work, but which also requires removing yourself from the labor market for three years and taking on $150,000 of high interest debt for the privilege of acquiring it?"

    This is me, albeit I've already worked 3 years as a paralegal in biglaw and PI. I have the numbers to get into the T-14 and was planning to send in applications this fall because I genuinely want to be a lawyer. I already knew there was no way in hell that I would take on massive amounts of debt to go to law school but as this year has progressed (and I've read this blog), I'm fairly certain I'm giving up on law school entirely. Giving up three years of work to go to school where I'd be taking on some amount of debt, rolling the dice in terms of getting any job at all (let alone one I really wanted), and then making potentially even less money than I am currently is looking increasingly ridiculous. So thanks to all of you and to LawProf for putting all this information out there.

    That being said, I'm curious as to what people think about the future of jobs in legal support. Is working as a paralegal an equally tenuous career?

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  26. The Citi study is confidential and was given to participating law firms. There are a few online links to a 2012 client advisory that include similar information (lower demand, higher expenses etc...) but those online resources do not break out the data across the AmLaw 100.

    http://thomsonreuters.com/content/press_room/legal/549826

    https://peermonitor.thomsonreuters.com/ThomsonPeer/docs/2012_Client_Advisory.pdf

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  27. Law Prof

    Again, given the economic data, how can they be in denial?

    Not to psychoanalyze your friend, but his mental state has become important given what you say of him. He doesn't sound agnostic. He sounds delusional given the long term economic data that's easily available to anyone with internet access.

    I just don't understand how this is excusable or defensible.

    Bruh Rabbit

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  28. "He told me they're thinking that this is all a temporary blip, driven by the recession, and that "soon" the big firms will be hiring as many entry-level associates as they were five years ago, and we can leave all this unpleasantness behind us (he himself is skeptical about whether this will actually happen)."

    Once again for the record, not only do a small percentage of recent graduates ever get a big law firm job (not more than 22% in very good years before the recession), according to the Citigroup accounting survey in Q3 2011, 80% are no longer working in those jobs after 5 years. The extremely high attrition (4/5 after 5 years) from the relatively high paying big firm jobs has been a fact for decades. It far precedes the recession. Therefore, even if, assuming arguendo, biglaw firm hiring does increase some, things will not be good. Law school will still remain a bad investment for the vast majority of people.

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  29. Check out constitutional daily for an explanation of some of the ways that employment data (both numbers employed and unemployed, and salary or earnings) presented by law schools, the BLS, etc. fails to represent reality.

    http://constitutionaldaily.com/

    48% of all lawyers work as solo practitioners. They are incapable of becoming unemployed. Even if all their business goes away and they're actually losing money paying rent and malpractice insurance, they're still an employed lawyer. Another 22% of lawyers work in firms with 2-10 attorneys, and they're going to be in the same boat. If you and your buddy form a firm together and business dries up, you don't lay each other off. You remain "employed," but are just not earning any money.

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  30. More graduates than jobs = un/underemployed graduates.

    It isn't about tuition costs. It isn't about professor salaries. It isn't about what professors think about it at all.

    Legal education needs to be regulated. Schools need to be shut down, some temporarily, some permanently. Sure, it would be just a tad better if, as Campos suggested out in Cali, tuition was cut by 30% across the board, but you'd still have tens of thousands of graduates with $100,000 in debt and no job rather than $150,000 in debt and no job.

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  31. Law Prof raises a point that has been raised before, but is worth repeating. The terrible job market for undergraduates is a huge ace in the hole for the law school industry when it comes to finding a new crop of suckers every year. It’s a hell of a thing for Johnny to graduate from college only to end up stocking shelves at Home Depot. So, Johnny goes off to a TTT law school instead. Of course, Johnny will be in an even worse positing three years later, but at least he gets to avoid the orange apron for a while.

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  32. I'd bet that the vast majority of law students aren't there for that reason anyway. Being a lawyer, even being in law school, still seems prestigious and respectable to the world at large.

    People go because they are money and/or prestige whores. And for a rare few, because they really just want to practice law.

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  33. I agree with Nando. I work in-house with a semi-large corporation, and I refuse to work with anyone other than a senior associate. I've read several articles that this is the trend. Why should my company pay to train the firm's own employees? I have too much work and too little time to micromanage outside counsel. I want to know when we hire a firm to do something, that it will be done right the first time, and that if I'm paying top dollar, it better take 5 hours to draft a response to that complaint, not 15 hours.

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  34. Heh... was this in response to my comment yesterday that there will inevitably be a glut of law school students as long as the economy is bad?

    You're right, there absolutely are factors that make the law school scam bad independent of the state of the economy. Still, I feel like our society REALLY needs to figure out a viable career path for liberal arts grads so that "just go to law school!" isn't the default option.

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  35. "Still, I feel like our society REALLY needs to figure out a viable career path for liberal arts grads so that "just go to law school!" isn't the default option."

    No, we do not need to find them viable path because they do not exist. Liberal arts teaches you so many soft and so few hard skills. There is no room for us in this world. Liberal arts/social sciences programs need to be scaled back just like law schools.

    All schooling from community colleges to grad schools should be focused on placing grads into real jobs.

    N

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  36. !0:48: Good question (re legal support careers). I have wondered the same myself. Is this the kind of work that is being outsourced? Or is there going to be a greater need than ever now that law firms have cut back on hiring so much?

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  37. 10:48 -- There's nothing wrong with re-evaluating career choices. There's a lot of turmoil out there right now just winding its way through the pipe.

    I don't know if law will be better 5 or 10 years from now. I hope that it is, but I suspect that it won't be for at least a generation.

    We always will need quality lawyers, just as society always will need quality teachers, homebuilders, policemen, etc. But the supply has become skewed in a market imbalance due, at least in large part, to the actions of the law schools. Wait for things to shake out before jumping into a crowded pool.

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  38. "I want to know when we hire a firm to do something, that it will be done right the first time, and that if I'm paying top dollar, it better take 5 hours to draft a response to that complaint, not 15 hours."

    Dude, you're getting hosed!

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  39. "All schooling from community colleges to grad schools should be focused on placing grads into real jobs."

    ^This is bullshit b/c most jobs are bullshit especially in our increasingly "post industrial" world.

    Anyway, the job market would get over filled with young people avoiding school.

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  40. The Liberal Arts branch of the University is the only influence that has the potential to make a person truly "Educated" and Civilized.

    But that is a hope.

    The commenters above that devalue the liberal arts are well suited to the promulgation and perpetuation of the Law School and corollary Student Loan Scam.

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  41. There is viable path way for American workers. You are being exposed to the realities that the rest of the world has known and were not protected from.

    Again, the Egyptian Spring happened, in part, for example, because students there, with higher education degrees, could not find jobs.

    This is the truth in many societies.

    The problem for Americans is not that higher education should lead to jobs. Yes, we wish it would. The problem is that the choice to obtain the education has been turned into a huge risk.

    Education, on some level, has very little do with with the job market. Educated societies should want educated citizens regardless of the prospect of finding a job in the field of training. Organizations with vast sums of money can barely figure this out. Its unrealistic to expect individuals to do any better at gambling which degree will pay off. They should not be saddled with massive debt in taking the risk.

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  42. "no viable path way"

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  43. Looking at the Columbia Law School post-graduate fellowships, at least some of these are legitimate 2 year or in some cases one year fellowships. Presumably, some people want to take them and not go to biglaw. There are people who get financial aid at all law schools and are not carrying $150,000 of debt. There are also people who worked for a few years before going to law school, have help from their families, are a second income, etc. and are not under enormous financial pressures. It would be pretty typical to a have a good percentage of the class at a top law school in the not under financial pressure category - much higher than 10% of the class.

    You also have to remember that these are typically people in their mid-20's with no children to support, no mortgage to pay, no car to pay for.

    Depending on what type of fellowship one gets, a fellowship can lead to a very successful and lucrative legal career. The student knows when the fellowship will end, and if they have actual skills at the end of it, they have a decent chance at a decent legal job.

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  44. Rush does not believe the interest rates on Student Loans..

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/24/rush-limbaugh-sandra-fluke-again_n_1449935.html

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  45. Just on the point of fellowships. Some of these top schools have such big endowments, they are rolling in money. They do not even come close to spending down their endowments. Post-graduate public interest fellowships, even long-term fellowships, are a good use of the endowment money. You know the expression "You can't take it with you." Applies to endowments, too, that are building up exponentially and not being used enough for educational purposes.

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  46. If a student who wants to shun Big Law can spend two years at a fellowship where h/she may actually get experience, h/she may be in a better position than someone who is at a firm for one or two years, washes out, or leaves voluntarily. The salaries tend to be in the 40s and 50k range with health benefits. That is not a terrible first step if the person has no family obligations.

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  47. And who is going to fund these fellowships, the fellowship fairies?

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  48. Well, Rush is just practicing what the GOP House is on the subject- deny and hope people are stupid enough to buy it. At least Romney is smart enough not to go there. Of course, neither he or Obama are offering any long term solutions.

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  49. @5:28 If you are talking to 5:19, I was referring to fellowships that already exist at some schools. I was amplifying the statement made earlier about some of Columbia's two year fellowships. They exist at HYS, too. I wasn't suggesting that these are, or could be, available at every law school. The point was that it is not right to consider taking one of these types of fellowships as a "failure" of some sort.

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  50. @528

    ah, okay, i read the comment is isolation. I apologize for misunderstanding the context.

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  51. Some people are missing the point on fellowships. The rich schools can well afford to fund them. You are talking about billions in endowments. You don't need a fairy. The money is there. Some of the leading schools in the country have the $$$ to fund lifetime fellowships for many people. They have got the $$$$ in droves.

    The problem has been hoarding of endowments. Not putting the money into the school or the local community.

    Let them use it for this purpose. It is a good use. If there were more of this type of use by these schools with so much $$$$, we would have a better society.

    Harvard, Yale, Stanford and Columbia all have huge endowments. So do many of the other leading schools nationally.

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  52. I believe that Foxxy Lady and all the GOP are trying very hard NOT to win this election..

    http://tinyurl.com/d9h27qg

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  53. A good topic to discuss is what do you think Congress will do when they notice that the largest amounts being borrowed and forgiven under the IBR plan is from law school students...I mean 20 years from now if loans start to be forgiven..the treasury is going to notice that they are taking it up the arse from a particular group of students

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  54. If current trends in what clients are demanding of law firms continue, it will have a number of effects. First, even in BigLaw hiring patterns will return to those of the early large firm period - a small number of hires of new JDs at lower paychecks in real terms and greater tendency to look for lateral associates who have proved themselves over 3-7 years of practice in smaller firms.

    One of the things I find consistently surprising is the tendency of so many law students posting here denouncing "shit law" and smaller firms of less than 50 lawyers. I have spent most of my career in that sort of firm - and I am now a member of two firms (on different continents) that are smallish. Both are what would be described as very high end boutiques - and both find very large firms looking to recruit our trainees.

    Maybe my experience of smaller firm practice was unusual, but I found myself in depositions, writing motions, researching legal opinions, structuring bankruptcy/restructurings around countervailing duties, drafting major contracts, etc. I also saw what my peers in very large firms did - and there was nearly no variety and no challenge. I spent my first 5 years in a state of continuous "oh shit what do I do with this...." To a degree what we do today, 15-20 years later is still in the "oh shit!" category.

    I honestly think that a young lawyer will, in the right small/medium sized firm, get a better and broader training and bigger challenges much earlier than any associate in a BigLaw firm. I also find many former BigLaw associates deeply unimpressive as lawyers - and I have hired them as in-house counsel and worked with them. Also in my experience - and I will make exceptions - HYS does not produce very creative lawyers - especially in order Y, then H, then S - and many H graduates tend to be rather obnoxious.

    Given my assessment of the situation - (a) the tuition demanded by all law schools, including the top tier, will broadly need to decline; (b) the ability of lawyers to bill at high numbers - in BigLaw or boutiques - will be gated by their opportunity to get trained in smaller and mid-sized firms and a much more limited number of junior associate slots in BigLaw - and this number of openings will depend on the size of the legal services industry; (c) there will be fewer jobs for new legal graduates at lower pay in future - and so they will need to graduate with less debt; (d) law schools will all have to cut tuition and shrink numbers of students; (e) many will close.

    Perversely, good lawyers who have 6+ years good experience will probably do well and continue to do better over time. The problem for many will be getting to that point.

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  55. MacK - As always on point, particularly on the unimaginative CYA approach seen in many large firms and encouraged by prominent schools.

    You should start your own blog.

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  56. I know this isn't on topic - but LAWPROF - here is a TLS thread where people finally look at their loan statements. Maybe loan statements should be sent monthly by the govt...these amounts are online but most students are AFRAID to even look. So they should get monthly statements while they are still in school.

    http://www.top-law-schools.com/forums/viewtopic.php?f=10&t=183509

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  57. @MacK/3:01 a.m.:

    I think your experience of small firm practice is definitely unusual, starting with belonging to firms (a) with offices on more than one continent (b) that serve the interests of business clients almost exclusively.

    What makes a firm "shit law" are its clients and its range of practice areas. You're not handling slip-'n-falls on contingency, or waiting for a felony defendant to come up with another $3,500 so that you won't be donating your time at trial now that the prosecutor has decided to offer him nothing. You're handling Big Law's clients, at a discount based on lowered overhead. Had you not spent time at a Big Law firm or meeting its clients, do you think you or maybe your similarly situated partners could have interested your current clientele in your services?

    As you point out, it'll be a struggle for most lawyers to reach a point of six years' experience in any practice area, let alone one that gives them exposure to the sort of clients your firm handles. From that perspective, I'd rather be Harvard's most mediocre graduate than a late-blooming genius from Cardozo.

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  58. "Maybe my experience of smaller firm practice was unusual, but I found myself in depositions, writing motions, researching legal opinions, structuring bankruptcy/restructurings around countervailing duties, drafting major contracts, etc. I also saw what my peers in very large firms did - and there was nearly no variety and no challenge. I spent my first 5 years in a state of continuous "oh shit what do I do with this...." To a degree what we do today, 15-20 years later is still in the "oh shit!" category."

    +1

    I have worked with many BigLaw attorneys, as co-counsel, local counsel, and opponent. Most have been decent people, but the skill level has been generally the equivalent of that of the competent lawyers I deal with every day. They just charge a whole lot more.

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  59. Morse code:

    I am in two firms. One I was a member of before I made the move to GC in some large companies - the other we created - that is to say classmate, refugees from BigLaw - the first firm invited me to also be of counsel there when I stopped GCing. The mid sized firm I joined as lawyer number 6 long ago merged into BigLaw and then sorta vanished.

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  60. Morse code:

    "Had I not spent time in BigLaw" ... I was never in BigLaw. I admit that a few BigLaw firms over the years have tried to recruit me, and some have made offers - but I have never been in a firm with more than 2-30 lawyers (OK one did merge into a 500 odd lawyer firm after I left to go somewhere and there was a partnership there is I wanted it - I did not.)

    We use a lot of BigLaw firms - that is to say that we retain them when we need the resource ... but we are not BigLaw. We are international litigators and deal lawyers heavily high tech orientated - most with high tech backgrounds on top of law and with multinational training and admissions.

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  61. A last comment Morse Code.

    What you call Shit Law - litigating slip and falls, or small torts, contract disputes, representing smaller companies against bigger - that is how you get to be good as a lawyer. You take matters, you do the job, you get skills, judgment, you see how lawyers for other types of companies behave, you learn what judges like and don't like, you see what warranties and indemnities mean in practice, you learn to spot testosterone surge drafting, you get a good sense of how to get clients out of trouble - and if you are good you develop as a lawyer.

    The basic skills a successful and good lawyer needs are are the same whether you are representing poor people on big companies - and you get them the same way, by studying and by doing. By the time any client is willing to pay a lawyer's hourly rate that client is in TROUBLE or has a lot, for that client at stake. I find the derision of "shit law" annoying because if I had some shit law work it would be useful - it can be used to train junior lawyers - to get them skilled. One of BigLaw's problems is that the firms are not structured to do much "shitlaw" so the junior associates cannot get any experience.

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  62. According to a career services employee with the University of Baltimore School of Law, it is still a matter of the economy:

    http://www.baltimoresun.com/entertainment/bthesite/bs-b-0425-law-school-20120424,0,5183042,full.story

    ReplyDelete
  63. The actual price of going to law institution is much reduced than it would be if candidates could get reasonable tasks upon finishing from higher education.

    auto accident injury milwaukee

    ReplyDelete

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