Given the propensity of our culture to turn fundamentally structural social problems into personal morality tales, I'm somewhat surprised that there have been very few comments along these lines:
Many of the commenters appear to be commenting from the less-than-credible vantage point of disaffected failure: they failed to get into good law schools because of their collegiate failures; they failed to do well on the LSAT; they failed to do well at the law schools they did manage to attend (leading them to disparage law school exams as poor measures of success, rather than more honestly evaluating their own lack of success) ... and then, utterly unsurprisingly, they failed to secure worthwhile legal jobs, or any jobs at all. So now, their solution is to moan on the Internet about it -- which undoubtedly will lead to every bit as much success as their previous endeavors.Empirically speaking, this is of course complete nonsense. For one thing, huge numbers of current graduates of first tier -- and indeed top 25, and top 10 -- law schools aren't getting "worthwhile legal jobs," including many who did just fine in law school. For another, what about the 30,000 annual graduates of ABA-accredited law schools outside the first tier? Are 80% to 90% of them disaffected failures? (Based on a probably generous estimate that 10% to 20% of these graduates are currently getting "worthwhile legal jobs," defined liberally as permanent full-time employment that requires a law degree. Update: in comments a law professor at a "non-elite" school suggests the number for his/her own institution is around 30%, which may be more realistic, at least for second-tier schools).
This is why, for all the many problems that beset American legal education, the first step toward any kind of serious reform remains creating some sort of genuine transparency regarding the costs and benefits of getting a law degree. Consider this great post from The Law School Tuition Bubble. You really should take the time to read the whole thing (especially if you're a law school administrator or faculty member), but here's a key takeaway about the current financial structure of legal education in this country:
The most surprising thing I found is that unless a law graduate gets a Biglaw starting salary—which I believe will soon deflate rapidly—how much they borrow ultimately won’t matter. Once a fledging lawyer’s initial salary fails to produce a payment that covers the monthly interest, he or she might as well have borrowed as much money from the government as possible and spent it. That’s not to say I condone it, and I absolutely discourage people from taking on this kind of debt just because IBR exists. Not only does Congress flip-flop on student lending laws, but borrowing that kind of money is simply irresponsible for those who know better. The moral hazard IBR creates is even worse than I imagined. (Emphasis added)
Yes indeed -- for those who know better, which quite clearly doesn't include very large numbers of law school administrators and faculty. (I would love to know what percentage of law faculty could tell you right now what Income Based Repayment is. My guess would be less than five per cent). As I said, read the whole thing.
The bottom line is that right now ABA-accredited law schools are pumping out about 1.8 to 2.2 JDs (depending on assumptions) for every available legal job. Further more, according to the BLS, fully a quarter of the people currently employed full-time as attorneys are making less than $75,000 per year. (Note that's not a starting salary level -- that's for the profession as a whole). The linked analysis from LSTB illustrates how that income level would throw the vast majority of current private law school graduates -- and a good number of public-law school grads -- straight into long-term IBR, at immense cost to both themselves and the American taxpayer. So what we're looking at is a situation in which, over the next decade or so, half of all ABA law school graduates aren't going to get legal jobs (btw I'm simply leaving out of the picture altogether the 16% of law degrees that are awarded by non-ABA accredited schools), while a large proportion of the rest will get jobs that won't come close to allowing them to service the debt they incurred by going to law school. ( And no one should make the mistake of assuming that IBR, as troubling as this new form of quasi-indentured servitude is, will necessarily be around five or ten years from now).
This simply isn't a sustainable situation, and step one is to get that point across to as many people as possible, by getting as much information out into the open as we can. The commentators on this blog are playing a significant role in that process, and I want to thank them (you) for that.
A couple of administrative notes:
(1) I'm still not moderating comments, so if you're not seeing yours it's probably because it got caught in the spam filter, which I usually check once every two days or so. I don't think there's any need for moderation at this point, although I'd prefer it if people avoided Holocaust references and the like. The situation is bad enough on its own terms that it doesn't require over the top rhetoric.
(2) For obvious reasons I understand that commentators almost always prefer to remain anonymous, but I'd like to ask regular commentators to consider picking a handle. It makes it much easier to have in-thread and cross-thread conversations, and the back and forth between commentators is one of the more valuable features of the site.