3:30 p.m. – 5:15 p.m. Plenary III: Is the Legal Education Bubble (Still) Bursting?
Salons A, B, C & D
This distinguished group of law school deans and professors, some of whom have been most intimately involved in assessing the state of the legal profession and legal education, will have a conversation focused on providing answers to the following questions: How would you describe the current job market for recent law school graduates? How are the employment numbers in 2011-12 different than in 2005-06? Are these changes likely to disappear as the economy improves, or are they becoming structural, long-term changes? What legal employment information will the ABA require law schools to disclose in future years and how will this information be made available? Is full disclosure enough? Are there too many law schools, given the available job opportunities? What advice would you give to a person considering law school and the legal profession? Who should be going to law school? How should cost, scholarships, geography and specialization be factored into one’s decision about whether or where to go to law school? What level of debt is advisable? How does or should Income Based Repayment factor into one’s decision to consider going to law school? How should law schools change to better prepare students for the changing legal employment economy?
Moderator: Jerry Organ, University of St. Thomas School of Law (Minnesota)
Panelists: Paul F. Campos, University of Colorado Law School
Ken Gormley, Duquesne University School of Law
William D. Henderson, Indiana University Maurer School of Law
Maria Pabon Lopez, Loyola University New Orleans College of Law
Brian Z. Tamanaha, Washington University School of Law
A year and a half ago I finished my first year of legal studies at a private top 50 law school. Although I was awarded a fairly generous scholarship, I was still looking at a total of somewhere between $80,000 and $100,000 in debt for tuition, living expenses, books, etc. to complete my degree. After my first year of studies, I was ranked square in the middle of my class. Although I was able to keep my merit scholarship, I was becoming very concerned about the odds of finding suitable employment after graduation to repay my debt. Despite my school having a “solid reputation,” it seemed every student I spoke with, whether current or recent graduate, had the same story to tell… no job yet… but next summer will be different…. or in two years when we graduate the market will be better… or when I pass the bar… Reality started to set in when even the top students from my class had nothing lined up after OCI. Reality sank in when only a couple of “employers” contacted me for interviews for the volunteer positions for which I had “applied.” Reality bit when I was turned down for one volunteer position because recent graduates were also interviewing for the “opportunity.” I figured, if I can’t even give my services away for free, what employer in their right mind would pay a decent wage for what I have to offer? It was at that point that I seriously started to contemplate dropping out of law school and trying to move on.At that point, the full extent of the “law school scam” had not been fully revealed. There were whispers of the true grim reality, but most of my classmates were still stuck in the bargaining phase of mourning and hadn’t moved on to full depression. I contacted my mother, the wise old sage of down-home common sense, for guidance. I explained the situation… I explained how it seemed the rules had changed – abruptly – that it seemed a law school education no longer made economic sense… the legal profession would never be the same. Then my mother asked me how much debt I was looking at if I finished. I almost couldn’t tell her the figure, because the figure sounded absurd when you said it out loud, “At least $80,000, probably $100,000 by the time interest and deferrals are figured in.” And then a moment of silence on the other end. I figured my mother must be thinking… “that’s more than we had paid for our house… that’s more money than you ever hope to see son.” Instead, my mother, the same woman who grew up without electricity and running water, whose feet were deformed because she couldn’t afford proper shoes as a child, and who never took out a credit card or a car loan because, “you don’t buy something unless you have the money to pay for it,” replied, “well that doesn’t sound too bad.” It was at that moment that I knew this whole thing was a bubble waiting to burst.Despite an assurance that, “You’re bound to find something when you graduate,” I knew, thanks to websites like jdunderground, that it was entirely too possible not to find any kind of legal employment after graduation. In fact, the JD might actually disqualify me for the kind of employment I held prior to beginning law school. So I made the gut wrenching decision to drop out. One year of law school had wiped me of everything. I moved in to my girlfriend’s place with no savings, no car, no job, and $30,000 in law school debt. Still, I felt like I had made the right decision for the long-term.Today, while my fellow classmates are graduating with six figures of debt and no jobs - at least I haven’t talked to a friend that has secured employment… “yet” – I have a decent job with good benefits. The job, in case you’re curious, is nearly identical to the job I left for law school hoping for more financial security. I’m also now married to my wonderful girlfriend who took me in with nothing after I left law school. I figured if we could survive that together we could last through anything together. After I found a job, we were able to purchase a house - a nice 3 bedroom, 2 bath house for $97,000 – ironically almost exactly what it would have cost me to finish my law degree. With the security of two incomes and manageable debt, we were able to start our family and recently welcomed our first child into this world. I don’t think it is an overstatement to say that [people like Brian Tamanaha, Law School Transparency, Bill Henderson, Deborah Merritt, Nando, JD Underground, Matt Leichter and others] willing to discuss the truth about law school and the legal employment market, saved my life. Without the knowledge being disseminated, I know I would have kept soldiering through law school, glossy brochure in hand, to land that mythical high paying firm job after graduation. I would likely be unemployed and in a 6 figure hole with no bottom in sight. I certainly would be in no position to purchase a house and start a family. I am so grateful for what I have now and I know I wouldn’t have what I do had I decided to finish law school. Please continue the work all of you are doing. Remember, “Whoever saves a life, saves the world entire.”