Thursday, January 26, 2012

Why people don't get jobs as lawyers

There's an old joke about people going to law school because they're not good at math.  Apparently it's not that much of a joke.  The thread to this post features an all-too-characteristic squabble about whether a graduate of a lower tier law school who finished at the top of his class but can't get a job as a lawyer is striking out because he doesn't come across well in interviews.  This kind of thing is exasperating for a number of reasons, not least of which is that, as a matter of empirical statistical analysis (there's that math again)  an ability to come across well in interviews has basically no correlation with subsequent job performance. This in turn isn't surprising, given that whether you like somebody in an interview context has almost everything to do with considerations of social class, aesthetic preferences, and cultural capital, and almost nothing to do with rational judgments regarding actual ability.

A yet more aggravating aspect of these arguments is how beside the point they are.  In every particular case a law graduate doesn't get a particular job as a lawyer for some particular reason. It may be because he didn't go to a good enough law school to get this job, or because her grades weren't good enough, or because he doesn't have five years of relevant practice experience, or because she doesn't know who Justin Verlander is, or because he isn't the son of a major stockholder in a corporation represented by the firm, or because she's not a member of an under-represented minority group, or because he is a member of an under-represented minority group, or because any of five hundred other reasons, good and bad alike, for "failure."

In every particular case there's a particular reason, but all those individual cases add up to a general proposition, which is that ABA-accredited law schools are currently producing (at least) two graduates for every available law job.  Here's a proposition that should win somebody a Nobel prize in economics: If there are at least two ABA law school graduates for every law job, the long-term legal unemployment rate for law school graduates is going to be at least 50%.   Contrary to the magical thinking to which law school administrators and career services offices are prone, improving the interviewing skills and "networking" abilities of your graduates has exactly zero effect on this situation.

In 2010, ABA-accredited law schools, who have extremely powerful incentives to discover the extent to which their graduates have legal jobs, and indeed are increasingly inventing "jobs" for ever-larger proportions of their graduates, were able to report that a total of 58% of their graduates had full-time employment requiring a law degree nine months after graduation.  But consider what that figure includes:

(1)  Temp work. If during the NALP survey window a graduate happened to be on a six-week document review project requiring 40 hours per week of work and the possession of a law degree (as most such projects do), then guess what: that person counts as someone who has full-time employment requiring a law degree.

(2) "Jobs" that feature a nominal or completely non-existent salary.  How many graduates of the class of 2010 listed themselves as employed full-time in a position requiring a law degree when what they were doing was working for free?  Given that only 40% of the national class of 2010 reported a salary to NALP, and given that a brief tour of the interwebs reveals that a lot of law school graduates are working for free, the answer is "we don't actually know (because we don't want to know)" but the number appears to be, as the stats people say, non-trivial.

(3)  "Jobs" invented by law schools to pump up putative employment rates.  This category included more than 4% of all "jobs" reported by 2010 graduates, and there's every indication that the 2011 number in for this category is going to be much, much higher.

(4) Short-term positions which will leave those in them unemployed within a few months after the survey window.  Judicial clerkships fall in this category: the NALP definition of "short term" employment is any employment that is scheduled to last less than one year.  This allows schools to list their graduates in judicial clerkships as having long-term employment.  Now while it's true that an Article III clerkship is usually something a graduate took when the graduate would have had the option of a taking a long-term full-time job requiring a law degree, Article III clerkships make up a very small percentage of judicial clerkships as a whole. Most judicial clerkships are state district court positions that, in the vast majority of cases, are going to leave those who take them searching for legal employment quite shortly.  But they can be -- and often are -- counted by schools as full-time long-term employment requiring a law degree.

(5) Unsustainable forms of self-employment.  Nearly one third of 2010 law graduates who listed themselves as employed full-time in a position requiring a law degree were either in solo practices or with "firms" of 2-10 employees.  Many of the latter positions consist of a couple of new grads opening a law office and trying to make a go of it, in a hyper-saturated market in which they (naturally) have almost no idea what they're doing, because the whole "practicing law" thing -- not to mention the "running your own small business" thing -- wasn't covered during the course of their legal education.

It's safe to say the statistic that 58% of 2010 grads were discovered to be in full-time employment requiring a law degree nine months after graduation is a very significant overstatement of the true legal employment rate for recent law graduates.  And the true legal employment rate for recent law graduates has, in the end, nothing to do with whether this or that person had good grades, or good people skills, or good connections, or anything else.  People don't get jobs as lawyers because there are more than twice as many law school graduates as there are jobs for lawyers. This ratio is, from the perspective of new graduates, getting worse every day. Any discussion of law school reform that doesn't put this fact front and center is just whistling past an increasingly full professional graveyard.


  1. What do you think of the treatment here, Lawprof? Comprehensive?

  2. I see law school industry apologists make this "argument" all the time. They never seem to grasp the fact that law schools, each year, accept too many students - and pump out FAR TOO MANY GRADS - for the available number of attorney positions.

    Do you see dental and medical students losing sleep because they didn't go to a top 5 school, or land in the top 10% of their class?! These schools are models of true professional bodies ensuring the investment of their future practitioners' time, energy, and money. No one can say this with a straight face about law school - other than a pathological liar or sociopath "law professor."

  3. Prof Campos, and others:

    I have been fortunate enough, so far, to be one of the rare law students for whom the decision to go to law school has been a positive one. I go to a good, not great, “regional” school in the Top 50. I have gotten very good grades, am on Law Review, etc. I have a job in a very good firm for the summer and a strong chance of getting a federal clerkship after graduation. But I still feel like the ex ante choice to go to law school is a bad one for most people, and I just happened to get lucky. What can I do to do my part? I feel like a fraud complaining about high tuition, low job placement, etcetera, because I am one of the lucky few who has a job. How, if at all, do I bring light to the general problems in my institution (and in legal education in general) without putting off those who are in a worse situation than me?

  4. "I have a job in a very good firm for the summer and a strong chance of getting a federal clerkship after graduation."

    I might have a job in a very good firm for the summer with a decent chance a "permanent" offer and a small chance of getting a federal clerkship after graduation.


    But you have awareness and if your lottery ticket hits and you end up with access to TPTB, advocate for those less fortunate/lucky/skilled.

  5. I just signed up for a "graduate fellowship" (mentioned previously here: JANUARY 14, 2012 11:20 AM). I am expected to work no more than part time for no longer than a few months. I am now considered "employed." Fuck me. But, hey, I suppose it could be worse.

  6. Even if we accept the 58% claim, it's still atrocious. Over 4 out of every 10 law students is spending $100k+ for absolutely nothing.

  7. 8:41 here, @8:54

    Modesty is always a virtue. However, I'm working for a firm this summer that has never "no-offered" a summer associate from my school. I consider that more than a "decent chance." Further, there are a group of judges who every year hire the students from my school who occupy the position I currently occupy. Of course there is always the chance it won't happen this year, but my chances are much greater than "small" in that regard. And without knowing what school I go to, my rank, my LR position, etcetera, I think it's rather presumptuous to assume my chances are "small," except insofar as *everyone's* chances are "small."

    Anyway, with that chest-puffing aside, could you expand on your recommendation to "advocate for those less fortunate?" Particularly, while I've been in school I've had the opportunity to attend panels and discussions (both public, to the whole school, and semi-private) with the administration and professors. I have always felt that expressing my opinion that my school is overpriced and fails to help students get jobs in adequate numbers smacks of insincerity because of my good fortune. That's what I'm trying to grapple with.

  8. The NALP statistics are brutal. Based on the 2010 NALP report less than 50% of law graduates seeking private employment are going to get jobs in sustainable firms (11+ employees).

  9. 6:21, I haven't read that link but please stop attacking law prof. He's stuck his neck out and created animosity between himself and his peers to help us. Even if the attack has merit, save it for one of your personal law professors who is doing nothing to help the problem.

  10. P.S. I just had it out with one of my law professors so I'm not being a hypocrite.

  11. "less than 50% of law graduates seeking private employment are going to get jobs in sustainable firms (11+ employees)."

    That actually sounds really high. I bet if I were to dig into the numbers I could show you why it's misleading.

  12. The math is pretty simple, and equally depressing. Let's say you start off with a 2:1 ratio of new law grads to new (real) lawyer jobs. Half of the new law grads become lawyers, half don't. Next year, they're still looking for a job, but the number of jobs hasn't increased and there's a whole new crop of law grads, so now it's a 3:1 ratio of job seekers to jobs. Year after, 4:1. The ratio won't go down until people get so discouraged with the job market that they just give up searching for legal work.

  13. Yup. Good point Charles.

  14. I'm also interested in anyone's response to 8:41.

    I'm lucky enough to have a 100% tuition scholarship (attending a TTT part time), and I've kept my full-time job. When I accepted the scholarship, I was aware of the terrible job market for new attorneys, but I wasn't aware that the most likely-to-fail students were the ones effectively subsidizing my education through their tuition payments and non-discharable loans.

    Am I morally obligated to quit? To protest? To warn my fellow students? Would they listen?

  15. Morally obligated to quit? Definitely not.

    To warn your fellow students? Probably not, the person responsible for fraud is the one committing that fraud - not independent third parties.

    It would be good of you if you could help, but you have no obligation as far as I can tell. Of course I'm not the decider.

  16. Donate money to LST.

  17. Thanks 10:45. The one complaint I have about this blog is that it's all analysis and complaint, and no action. But a donation is one of many tangible and real acts that you can do to help.

  18. The Law School Scammers hate Campos because he is like the Nazarene Rabbi going into the temple and upsetting the lucrative tables of the money changers.

    "Do not make My Father’s house a house of merchandise!"

    Academia has been corrupted. It's time for a cleansing.

  19. "Academia has been corrupted. It's time for a cleansing."

    Will you call your professors and tell them?

  20. 11:03 Here. I have had disagreements with various administrators and professors concerning the transparency of grading and job search, perhaps to my detriment.

  21. Thanks for your efforts 11:18.

  22. 10:32: If you quit, you will only be helping the law schools. They will not have to honor their scholarship commitment to you and may even bring in a transfer student who will pay full freight (meaning they will get back the money they would have paid to you plus more).

    Even if you feel morally queasy, unless you have real practical reasons for not staying, for example you don't think you would be able to get a law job after graduation and would like to devote more time to your current job, or you now realize you would hate being a lawyer, you should stay.

  23. @ 11:14,

    I have told my "professors". I've told my "professors" and Deans at the SHITTY university of Arkansas school of law, aka a third tier toilet.

    The pathetic Deans' response is this, "Well, our tuition is very low! That leaves our graduates with a lot of flexibility!"


    Can you believe this fucking SHIT?

    Fuck these god damn criminals.

  24. Editorial says law school is still a good investment @ Huh?

  25. Where does it say that? It says Northwestern is trying to adapt to a changing job market.

  26. From the article linked above by Anonymous @ JANUARY 26, 2012 9:44 PM (Editorial says law school is still a good investment):

    "Job searching today takes more work outside of one's comfort zone..."

    I damn near spit out my coffee.

  27. 8:59

    I tried to post a comment with a contrary viewpoint about this article and it was deleted. Scumbags.

  28. 9:07,

    Are you going to prepare an email to Mr. Chamberlain with those comments, or are you just going to let yourself be thwarted in that manner? If you do prepare this email, tell him that he needs to respond or you will report his lack of a response to the blogosphere.

    Your choice. Are you going to be stepped on or are you going to have a voice?

  29. 9:10:

    I don't think it really matters either way. The point is that this piece was taken apart on another website-LSTB.

  30. I remember, many many years ago when I was in grade school, there was a rash of bicycle thefts at the school. Apparently, the bicycles tended to be stolen from the part of the row of bikes that was closest to the street. And so the school solemnly advised the students to park their bikes in the middle of the row, away from the exposed end.

    Even at the time, I realized there was something wrong with this. While it was good advice, I suppose, for any particular kid to park in the part of the row that was closest to the building, that simply meant that it would be someone else's bike that would be stolen. There would always be bikes near the end of the row. So, while the advice was good for each kid who heeded it, it was an entirely inadequate institutional response--it did nothing to address the real problem, which was that bikes were being stolen.

    So, for the purposes of argument, let's suppose the guy who had lots of unsuccessful interviews in a row really was a dreadful interviewer. Working on his interview skills might well make a difference for him, but it wouldn't help the overall situation--if he gets a job, it's just one more job that someone else didn't get.

    I think there are some people who just naturally think in terms so individual problems rather than systemic problems. As long as they can tell themselves that any particular new grad might, through diligence and good sense, find some kind of job, it doesn't matter that there aren't enough jobs to go around. For these people, there are no systemic problems, just personal failings.

  31. "I don't think it really matters either way. "

    Nice cop-out you voiceless coward.

  32. 9:55:

    You fucking asswipe. I have written my government reps, spoken to my law school, told everyone I know about this problem.

    It sees to me as though you are one of those types that focuses on some trivial issue and makes it out to be something larger than it is. If YOU are so concerned about some anonymous comment being deleted on a website, why don't YOU email the webmaster and have it posted, rather than expending the energy berating somebody else for not doing so.

    This morning, rather than making a big deal about a deleted comment, I am making phone calls to my Congressional reps and alerting them to the law school scam. What have you done this morning about this problem, aside from name calling? Nothing, aside from jerking off, I am sure.


  33. Lawprof: I'm one of the people who was using that frightening thing called math on the entry in question. The issue is the impression such people make. If someone like myself, an academic way outside of law who takes an interest in student debt issues, looks from the outside at the situation with respect to law students, he'll ask himself this: Are they exaggerating, or is the problem as bad as they are saying? If you present someone who is 0 and 21 in interviews, while there might very well be reasons for this track record, it will be natural to question how typical he is. So I did some calculations to try and get an idea, that's all.

    All I'm saying is that to promote your case to people outside of law, it's best to pick people (and you do this quite often as well, I'll grant you that) who don't give the impression of being atypical because of things like a 0 and 21 interview record. Some of the jdunderground posters really do seem like the stereotypical drunken slobs living in parental basements while talking about all the chicks they're gonna bang this weekend. I can see now that there are *tons* of struggling law grads who are nothing like this... so there's no reason to point them out as examples.

  34. 11:14 again.. another "bad example" that occurs to me: Remember there was this New York Times article a while back featuring some guy who got about 275K in debt going to Thomas Jefferson Law School in California, the one that recently featured a 33 percent bar exam success rate? The guy seemed like a total idiot, not even caring afterwards that he had screwed himself over so much. People won't look at him and say, this guy has been scammed and something needs to be done about it. They will think, what a fucking idiot, and then go on to the next article. That's the importance of using good examples for this sort of thing, to get general sympathy.

  35. 10:45,

    Why not just email your comment to Mr. Chamberlain? You clearly had some points you wanted to make, so why not make them to his face? Why are graduates so intimidated for law school academics?

  36. 11:28:

    I did. I heard nothing. As usual. The ass calling me a coward seemed to have issue with the fact that I did not blast the author for deleting my comment after the article.

    BTW: I am a graduate, I practiced for years, and I have NO PROBLEM stating my case to a law school academic (or admins). Facing a law professor or academic is a heck of a lot easier when you are used to combative situations like a hostile judge or opposing counsel, trust me. I wish I had such big brass balls when I was a law student. As an aside, it is fun to tell these LS paper pushers how I feel to their face rather than over the phone because I get to watch them squirm and come up with laws.

    Additionally, I guide them to sites such as this one. It gives me more credibility and makes them squirm even more.

    I still wonder, to this day, why I felt so intimidated by these people while in law school. I have a few ideas.....

  37. Sorry lies, not laws.

  38. You wrote Chamberlain? Good. Thanks.

  39. Many people fail to understand economics and the law of supply and demand.

    There are many bright people who could work as lawyers, but the supply far outstrips the demand.

    Law school is not hard the way medical school is. You aren't taking hardcore math and science courses. Most medical schools require at least one semester of calculus in undergrad, how many law students do you think have taken calculus in college? I'd bet not many. In law schools you find people that majored in Literature. Not that there is anything wrong a degree plan in Literature, but its not as hard as other degree programs.

  40. Excellent analysis of the hoax that is law school: I should know--I've lived it...

    *law review at Cal Western School of Law
    *graduation in two years
    *passed CA Bar on first attempt
    *Am Jur award, Dean's Honor List
    *MA in another field from USC
    RESULT? After literally of thousands of resumes/cover letters, phone took years to get a lousy $40K job 65 miles from home...was laid off after a year...defaulted on student loans...Ch 7 BK twice...bottom-rung telemarketing jobs...rejected by employers in other fields...too many sad details to list....

    Now, 20+ years later: 54 years old, broke--with a tiny, part-time "practice."

  41. I have been a lawyer for seven years and graduated from UF in 2000. I didn't get on the bar right away, but now I'm on two bars (FL and CA) and still cant find work. I worked 3.5 ye ars as a prosecutor and taught for about 2 years. My advice --enter at your own risk and play several lottery tickets for legal employment when you get in!

  42. do something better then, nerds

  43. Why don't unemployed lawyers form co-operatives and take cases on a contingency and pro bono basis?

  44. In every particular case a law graduate doesn't get a particular job as a lawyer for some particular reason. It may be because he didn't go to a good enough law school to get this job, or because her grades weren't good enough, or because he doesn't have five years of relevant practice experience, or because she doesn't know who Justin Verlander is, or because he isn't the son of a major stockholder in a corporation represented by the firm, or because she's not a member of an under-represented minority group. Best Lawyers

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  47. Luckily I got a full ride scholarship. SO I will have little, if any debt. If I get a job for 40k a year I will be happy. You get 7 years of education, you can go through the back door and become a teacher in many states. Become a manager in a mall. Get some job. Who says it has to be an attorney job?

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  49. I think most of the people who just naturally think in terms so individual problems rather than systemic problems. Miami Bail Bonds


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  51. That actually sounds really high. I bet if I were to dig into the numbers I could show you why it's misleading.
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