My response to Larry Mitchell's New York Times editorial on the supposedly "sensationalist" claims of law school critics is here.
Impressive that Mitchell hits every single scam point in a single op-ed, rather than going with the two to four that he considers to be the most persuasive. It is all there. He says:See also.
1. overwrought bloggers exaggerate.
2. cyclical economy.
3. who knows what the world will be like in 40 years?
4. law school trains leaders!
5. opens doors to exciting and well-paid non-law careers.
6. everything else sucks too.
7. starting salaries are 61K!
8. average lawyer makes 130K!
9. legal sector is growing!
10. Long-term lifelong investment (aka good debt).
11. baby-boomer die-off.
I want to comment on the rarely discussed #4, because it helps explain why #5 is false. #4, incidentally, was beautifully expressed by Prof. Peter Bayer of UNLV Law, who said: "We are not producing plumbers and bookkeepers, we are producing the leaders of our Society whose primary ability is the strength of their intellects. Law teachers hone the mind in a variety of ways through a variety of methods."
JDs, excluding maybe graduates of the 30 or 40 least selective schools, really are brighter and more disciplined than the average BA. So why is a law degree actively despised by nonlaw white collar employers?
I believe it is because nonlaw employers recognize that a JD signifies a bundle of elite expectations, rather than a bundle of skills. A fresh JD degree doesn't communicate the message: "I have the training to represent clients in a couple of practice areas"-- which a nonlaw employer might respect, even if he or she cannot utilize those skills. Rather, a newly minted JD communicates: "I can't do anything practical for you or anyone, but I spent three years playing obscure mind-games, and now I think I am a leader and oh-so-smart." To the nonlegal world, a JD stands for asshole.
Update: Mitchell's article has generated some excellent critical commentary. In addition to the Simple Justice piece linked above, Alison Monahan, Matt Leichter, Elie Mystal, and Keith Lee take Mitchell to task in various enlightening ways (I'm sure there are other good responses as well.)
A law professor writes:
I have a vague feeling I ought to disclose that two years ago I supported Mitchell's candidacy to become CU's new dean, in part because he gave what by law school administrator standards was a very blunt presentation to the faculty regarding the increasingly problematic financial structure of legal education. And I can appreciate he's in a bad spot right now, as Case Western is exactly the kind of school that's extremely vulnerable to the shock waves hitting legal academia. It's:It’s useful to consider Mitchell’s op ed in light of Case’s enrollment over the past two years. Based on LST stats and the 2012 numbers on Case’s website, Case’s 1L enrollment has gone from 236 to 192 to 154; meanwhile the median LSAT of 160 is flat despite the 35% cut over two years. And another 10+% decline in applicants coming this year… No wonder the op ed reeks of desperation.
(1) Very expensive
(2) Has poor employment outcomes
(3) Is not in a locale that's attractive to trust fund slackers looking to wile away three more years of their youth
(4) Is located within a university that has a better academic reputation than the law school
The last item is particularly important. As higher ed in general comes under more and more budgetary pressure, I doubt central administrators will be eager to subsidize professional schools that don't enhance their universities' prestige, especially when those schools are graduating increasingly disgruntled alumni into a hyper-saturated market.