Saturday, August 29, 2009

Overpriced Legal Education

Tuition for full-time students at Drake University’s third tier law school for the 2009-10 school year is now $30,750. When I was a first-year law student in 2006, tuition was a little over $26,000 at Drake. At the end of three years, you can be certain to spend in the neighborhood of $94K for the “privilege” of earning a JD. What do you get for this amount?

Well, according to Drake, 97.4% of law graduates were employed or in graduate school within nine months of graduation. This info is also dated – these stats are from the class of 2007.

Of course, the crooks made sure to add the all important qualifier: Based on Drake Law graduates who passed the bar on the first attempt and were seeking work.

What about those who did not take the bar? What about the poor fools who took the bar exam and did not gain admission to the bar? What about those who have looked for months and cannot find work - are these discounted as "not seeking work"? Well, I guess those guys don’t count. (Plus, the CDO only seems to contact those at the top of the class, or those who had employment as an attorney lined up with lawyer parents or siblings.) See how easy it is to create favorable statistics? Well, if I wanted to list ONLY the best qualities of my current or former sex partners, you might get the impression that I have dated all perfect tens.

Looking at Drake Law’s self-reporting employment stats above, what don’t you see? Hmmm, it appears that average starting salary info is not listed. Why would this be the case? Could it be that the school does not want to list an average starting salary of a law school grad, because that figure is in the $35,000-$41,000 range? Well, then the school would not be able to economically justify its huge tuition, i.e. $30,750/year.

Negative information is hidden from prospective students. Prospective law students are typically among the best students in their undergrad programs and areas of study. They think the world is theirs for the taking. So, even if the schools listed accurate employment/starting salary info, it might not make a difference to those who apply. But the schools don’t chance this – presumably these students can do the math and might discern that going $90K in debt for a job that pays $40K a year is not worth the investment.

Furthermore, seeing that the student must borrow this money, the figure is a lot more than $90K. If the student takes 20-30 years to pay back the loans, this figure might end up being closer to $190K (depending on the interest rate, extended deferment, default status, financial hardship and other circumstances). What about the student who had to pay full tuition plus take out private loans for living expenses. I shudder at the thought.

Peruse Drake Law’s website. You get the idea of the value of legal education just by seeing the focus on public service work and internships. The outside legal world does not perceive this to be a high caliber law school. And perception is pretty much everything in the law (and in the larger U.S. society where success is based primarily on $$$). “Yes, I want to go to law school so I can be a starving lawyer!”

If you are a current applicant to law school, or considering this boneheaded move, please take this info into account. I am not trying to crush your hopes and dreams for fun or personal amusement. I am trying to add some insight. I went through law school – the sleepless nights, the bullying by law professors, the stress, the debt – and I know from experience that this is not a path to financial or spiritual success. Do not go to law school unless you crush the LSAT and have a realistic shot of getting into a top 15 school. (Even then it is a crapshoot – you might get into Cornell or Northwestern and finish in the bottom half of the class). OTHER THAN THIS YOU ARE SIMPLY WASTING THREE YEARS OF YOUR LIFE, THREE YEARS OF INCOME, AND YOU WILL BE A SLAVE TO SALLIE MAE OR THE OTHER PREDATORY STUDENT LOAN LENDERS.


  1. You're feeling bad about the people who didn't pass the bar? Those people shouldn't be lawyers in the first place.

  2. "Employment" is not confined solely to legal employment. You are aware of this, correct?

    Anyway, since "you can do anything with a law degree," shouldn't a J.D. still help one find a job? Oh that's right - law schools say this to keep up the enrollment numbers (and to keep the dropout rate from climbing).

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