Prof. Campos, who are you or who am I to tell a law student or college grad what path to take? The data is out there. In today's economy, law school is a terrible proposition unless you come from a wealthy background or attend a top 10 school with a scholarship.
When young people ask me whether or not to attend law school, I change the conversation. I could tell them don't go, but they will resent me for crushing an illusory dream and still attend just to prove people like me wrong. Hubris will be their downfall.
Now I agree that the last sentence of the first paragraph is an arguably reasonable interpretation of the data alluded to in the previous sentence. Whether, generally speaking, the category of people who "should" go to law school under current conditions ought to be broader or even narrower than this isn't the question I want to engage here. (I've got my own thoughts on this). Rather, I'd like to focus on the idea that the information is already available for prospective law students who want to make a rational choice about whether to try to become attorneys (or to go to law school for some other reason, dubious as any other reason is almost certain to be).
In a sense, of course, the data is out there. A prospective student who knows where to look, and, even more important, already has the ability to interpret the data accurately, can certainly get a tolerably accurate sense of what his or her own personal risk/return ratio looks like in regard to this question. But these are crucial caveats. Learning where to look, and even more so learning how to interpret properly what one finds, are what education is all about. And one thing we tend to do, I believe, is to seriously over-estimate the extent to which college undergraduates and their families are in a position to do this successfully in regard to this particular decision.
This is because legal academia continues to to cash in (quite literally) on the cultural cachet associated with the social identity of the lawyer. Culturally speaking, it remains the case that, despite all the jokes and the genuine anxieties and resentments that generate them, law is considered a high status profession, and therefore being a lawyer is considered a high status social identity. One consequence of this is that it is extremely difficult to get people to grasp the extent to which legal education is, at present, a kind of cultural Potemkin Village. It seems difficult to believe that all these unarguably high status people -- law school deans, and university administrators, and heads of the American Bar Association, etc. -- could be selling potentially vulnerable young people and their families a bill of goods when they go on and on about how a law degree is a wonderful investment in one's future, because it is the key to membership in a highly respected, intellectually challenging, socially crucial, and at least reasonably remunerative learned profession.
These people are all cultural authority figures, and for all the superficial cynicism of contemporary political discourse, Americans are still for the most part successfully socialized not to question such people in any serious way. The fact that such people are inevitably surrounded by the trappings of social and economic success -- fancy titles, and resplendent buildings, and (relatively) stupendous salaries, and retinues of groveling subordinates -- makes their authority no more likely to be questioned by average middle class and upper middle class undergraduates than the Pope's authority was going to be questioned by most of the characters in James Joyce's books.
Nor should we overlook the powerful effect of the fact that most of these authority figures themselves genuinely believe the line they're selling, for fairly straightforward reasons. I mean, if you were a law school dean, wouldn't you have an overwhelming desire to believe in the majesty of the law and the essential dignity of our learned profession and all that stuff? I know I would (although it doesn't look like I'll be getting to test that hypothesis any time soon). And wouldn't the strength of that desire have a powerful effect on your understanding of the things you saw and heard? As the poet said, a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest. If one remains safely within the comfortable cocoon of the university, or even the ABA bureaucracy, it is fairly easy to believe that, while all might not be for the best in this the best of all possible worlds, things are on the whole pretty good, despite some troubling but no doubt temporary downturns in the hiring market for new lawyers.
After all, "we" have heard all this before, have we not? That there were far too many lawyers, and that far too many of even those lawyers who had successful careers in terms of money and status were miserable? Yes indeed -- we've been hearing all that for many years, and nothing ever changed, so why should it change now?
No wonder people keep coming to law school -- look how happy and self-confident "we" remain! Surely people such as ourselves wouldn't mislead anyone? And in fact I believe that relatively few people in legal academia are consciously misleading anyone who is considering trying to become a lawyer. We don't need to, because we've so thoroughly managed to mislead ourselves.
So yes, the data is out there. But people need to want to find it, and to understand it, and to act on it. And by "people" I mean not only prospective law students and their families, but also the people who are benefiting most directly from not wanting to find it and to understand it. Reform must come from both within and without. The causal pathways go in both directions: as people outside legal academia put pressure on those inside it to grapple with what all but the most purblind will eventually understand is a genuine economic and social disaster, many of those of us within the intellectual equivalent of a gated community will start to make the relevant data available, and to interpret it, in ways that will in turn increase the outside pressure to do so. Indeed this is already happening.
When it comes to powerful, high status, well-defended social institutions, nothing ever changes -- until "one day" it does.