Ken Gormley, the dean of Duquesne Law School, has published an opinion piece in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on the current employment situation for law students. Here is a summary of his assertions (people should click through to the article itself to evaluate whether I'm being fair to Dean Gormley):
(1) Given the overall state of the economy, it is inappropriate to be particularly concerned about the inability of new law graduates to secure six-figure starting salaries.
(2) Few new law graduates are securing such jobs.
(3) News stories bemoaning (2) are misguided, because it is in fact desirable that few graduates are securing such jobs.
(4) It would be bad for lots of law grads to immediately start making big money, because this would send people the wrong message about why they should go to law school. Practicing law should not be primarily about making money: "The best reason for a young man or woman to attend law school is the same as it was a century ago: to ably represent fellow citizens and to help the justice system work effectively."
(5) The source of current misunderstandings is the USNWR rankings, which "have encouraged many law schools to fudge numbers to keep up with their 'competitors,' by artificially inflating their statistics." Indeed, according to Dean Gormley, "several law schools have faced lawsuits and sanctions from the American Bar Association recently for playing fast-and-loose in reporting their statistics."
(6) Several Duquesne graduates have excellent jobs.
(7) These people would never have gotten these jobs if they had chased non-existent pots of gold instead of going to law school.
(8) $60,000 isn't a bad starting salary at all if you're doing socially important work like helping kids and minorities.
(9) One of the best ways to acquire vast riches in the practice of law is to start off making little money at a small firm, gain valuable experience, start one's own firm, and then rake in profits that dwarf the salaries of Ivy League swells.
(10) The key to success in law is to love what you do and work hard at it. However success should not be measured in monetary terms (although lots of lawyers do in fact make big bucks). It should be measured by the extent to which graduates contribute to "the effective functioning of the legal system."
(11) Dean Gormley notes at the end of the piece that "we are acutely aware of the onus of student loans in light of the current economic situation. Duquesne Law School has recently increased scholarship funds available to entering law students, so that those who wish to serve others through the practice of law will not be deterred from doing so due to economic barriers."
He concludes with an inspiring observation: "One can call a legal education many things: difficult, costly, rigorous. However, as long as lawyers use their talents to serve others and to bring fairness to our democratic system, obtaining a law degree will never be a bad investment."
A syllabus of the argument: Feel free to ignore specious complaints about law grads not making enough money to drive a BMW convertible a month after passing the bar. People shouldn't go to law school to make money, but keep in mind that many people who go to law school at non-Ivy League schools like Duquesne do make big money, sometimes at very sexy jobs like being president of the Pittsburgh Steelers [those of a skeptical disposition might want to check out the biography of this eminent graduate], although probably not right away. The reason why there's a problem with misleading placement statistics is because some schools fudge their numbers, but they're being punished by the judicial system and the ever-vigilant ABA. A starting salary of $60,000 is pretty good for socially important work. For some unspecified reason law school debt has become a problem, but Duquesne is addressing this by offering scholarships, which will allow people to take lower-paying but socially valuable jobs. Law school is hard and costs a lot but produces so much social goodness that it's literally impossible for it to ever be a bad investment.
A lot of things could be said about this, but I'll mention just a couple. First, Dean Gormley's argument is fantastically dishonest from beginning to end. Almost every single substantive assertion in it is either a flat-out lie or at best a grotesque distortion or oversimplification. What can one say about a law school dean at a lower-tier school who, at this particular moment, has the sheer chutzpah to argue that there's nothing wrong at all with a $60,000 starting salary for doing public interest work? Let me spell it out: THERE ARE NO JOBS LIKE THAT FOR ALMOST ANYONE NOW --and certainly not for Duquesne graduates. (The $60K figure was of course taken from a reporter's story, which in turn was lifted from the phony NALP numbers, which claim, absurdly, that the median starting salary for 2010 law grads was $63K.)
I was asked by a Wall Street Journal reporter yesterday if there's still a problem, given that prospective law students are surely aware that the real employment numbers don't look anything like what law school's advertise them as being. This question reflects the characteristic blindness of the elites (Scads of law professors are rationalizing the current situation by saying exactly the same thing right now, and they probably believe it too. This is what's going on every time some law professor points out that "The students are not blameless"). What this misses is that the average 21-year-old considering law school isn't reading the WSJ law blog, or this blog, or even Above the Law. He or she is looking at USNWR and the ABA guide, and the kid's parents are reading this kind of outrageous nonsense in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and how in the hell are they supposed to figure out this is nothing but a pack of egregious lies? Am I being "uncivil"? Do my learned colleagues think that's an "unfair" characterization of this op-ed? Then let just one of them defend one word of what this sinverguenza (look it up, it's le mot juste) is saying.
Second, how can words in any language convey adequately the sheer shamelessness of the argument that the problem with law school employment statistics is that a few bad apples out there are fudging the numbers? That is almost the precise opposite of the truth: The problem is that the official ABA-certified numbers bear no relation to reality. Has Dean Gormley read the complaints in the current suits against three law schools for advertising fraudulent employment stats? I have, and they say nothing about how these schools doing anything differently than any other ABA-accredited school in regard to how they report the employment status of their graduates. In fact I guarantee you that's going to be their primary defense: they can't have committed fraud, because if they had, that would mean every single law school in the country has committed fraud and that can't be the case because . . .
I could go on and on, but instead I'm just going to post a comment that was put on this blog a couple days ago, in an older thread, which most readers probably missed. I would pay a lot of money to watch this person cross-exam Dean Gormley under oath. I sincerely hope she (or someone) gets the chance to do so soon.
No matter how much the word gets out, apparently, it's still not enough. I have to think that, or else I don't understand the comments that deride the professor for 'assuming' that the horrible job market, the massive debt, the hopelessness of not being able to succeed in his profession and the destruction of his dreams [contributed] to Alex's death.
For those that think the professor is presumptuous for suggesting that such factors contributed to his death, you must lead a comfortable, little life, safely insulated from the recession and failure. You obviously do not know what it's like to have invested 10 years of your life to a goal that you now find out you will never reach.
You obviously don't know what it's like to have spent $150,000 to reach that goal, knowing now that you will never reach it. Note that that's not the costs of starting up your own business - it's the cost of starting up FIVE businesses - and failing, with nothing, not even experience to show for it.
You obviously don't know what it's like to painstakingly learn and stay up night after night, learning how, under enormous pressure to read, write, think, and conduct trials like a lawyer, when all that ended up being a waste of time, because you can never be one. Remembering the times when you were tired, wanted to quit - to give in, and you didn't, but that you still ended up losing anyway.
You must not know what it's like to have gone to great lengths to make something better of yourself ($150,000!) only to now realize that your day is comprised of "would you like to try that on in the dressing room?" You must not know what it's like to have a 22 year old manage you and look down on you - a 22 year old who never got an education - because she thinks you must be really stupid to have to work a $7.50 an hour retail job at your age.
And dammit, you did everything - everything you could - on a national team, on the Dean's List, an Honor's Scholar, graduated cum laude, sacrificed every last penny ($150,000!), spent months, hours every day to study for the bar (You gave EVERYTHING to take that bar - it took you half a year to come up with the money!), you worked while studying - to avoid that Wall-Mart but it was all in vain, because you will be working there the rest of your life. And asking yourself every night, "Why did I do it?" And having society look down upon you: those in the legal profession because you couldn't get in, and those not in the profession because they think education is a waste of time (and they are right.)
I envy those people who cannot see or even wonder whether those factors influenced Alex's life and death. I envy you, because you do not have to live with what so many of us have to face every day.
I, too, like Alex wanted to work in public interest. And I too, like Alex, wasted my whole life trying to do so. And now, I have to look forward to Wall-Mart every day ("Would you like to try that on in the dressing room, ma'am?")and cater to my customers, most who didn't get an education but who are much better off economically than I am and will ever be. Customers who look down on me and think I'm stupid for not getting an education or think I'm stupid for getting one, or just plain think I'm stupid for working as a sales girl at Wall-Mart.
In another life, I was something else. Every day, I try to remember what it was like when people actually asked my opinion - asked me to think. Now, they don't want me to think. My days are comprised of "would you like to try that on in a dressing room, Ma'am?" said with a phony smile while I cry on the inside at the lost opportunity.) And why all this? Because I got a legal education - the worst mistake of my life. And worst of all, knowing that my dream - to be a public interest attorney - the reason I did it all, sacrificed - is dead. Maybe it never existed.
Sign the Law School Transparency Petition.