Sunday, December 27, 2009

Dissecting the ABA's Numbers


In 1985, the median in-state law school tuition (plus fees) was $1,792; in 2008, this figure was $15,621. That is one hell of an increase, in the span of 23 years, wouldn’t you agree? For non-residents at state schools, median tuition plus fees was $4,786 in 1985; by 2008, the median tuition figure was $26,436 for non-resident students. It gets worse. Feel free to grab a barf bag, before we go over the median tuition and fee amounts for private law schools. In 1985, this figure stood at $7,385; by 2008, the median amount towered at $33,985.

According to left side of this same chart, there were 101 ABA-approved private law schools in 1985. In 2008, there were 118 private law schools in the U.S. Likewise, there were 74 ABA-approved public law schools in 1985. By 2008, there were 80 such law schools. Over the course of 23 years, an additional 23 American law schools were accredited, built, opened their doors, and pumped out more JDs. Apparently, for $ome rea$on, the ABA felt that we needed more law schools and more unemployed JDs.


This PDF purports to show the AVERAGE AMOUNT BORROWED by law students, from 2002-02 through 2007-08. In the 2001-02 school year, the average student debt from a public school was $46,499; for private law school grads, the average amount borrowed was $70,147. For the 2007-08 academic year, law students from public schools borrowed – on average - $59,234; for private law school graduates, the average amount of student loans taken out was $91,506.

What is not taken into account by this chart is the fact that the market for lawyers is smaller now than it was 8 years ago. Also not allowed for is the reality that interest rates on student loans have generally gone up since 2001. I would hardly consider an 8.5% interest rate to be an accurate reflection of the “risks” taken on by the banks, i.e. these loans are federally-backed. As a result of higher interest rates, it will cost student borrowers MORE to pay these loans back. More students are also taking on private loans to pay for their education – with accompanying higher interest rates.


Here is an eye-opener: in 2008-09, the total J.D. enrollment in U.S. law schools was 142,922 students. Just look on the right-hand side of the top line.

On a related note, the ABA reports that there were 43,588 JDs produced in 2007-08.

This confirms the figure put out by NALP for the Class of 2008 – NALP reports 43,587 law graduates for 2008.

Can you say UNSUSTAINABLE?!?!

CONCLUSION: In the last analysis, job prospects for current law students - and recent law graduates - are very bleak. Overall, (1) the job market for law graduates has shrunk; and (2) it is now MUCH more expensive to get a law degree. The number of law schools has increased (which has DIRECTLY contributed to the huge oversupply of lawyers in this country). The ABA is AWARE of this situation, and yet it continues to accredit more law schools. There are NOWHERE near 43,587 available lawyer (or law-related) jobs in a given year - in the U.S.

There is a HUGE oversupply of lawyers in the U.S. due to the following reasons: (1) an increase in the number of applicants (the low-wage, service based economy - combined with fraudulent employment and salary figures from law schools - provides an impetus for this development); (2) increase in the number of law schools; (3) more schools willing to take in sub-par applicants; (4) the resultant, excessive total JD enrollment; and (5) law schools pumping out close to 45,000 freshly-minted JDs each year.

Despite what law professors from third and fourth tier commodes state, law school is a terrible investment and a foolish career choice. THIS IS NOT DUE PRIMARILY TO THE CURRENT STATE OF THE ECONOMY. This situation is the result of greedy law schools and the gluttonous ABA producing FAR TOO MANY law graduates - each year - over the course of several decades.


  1. Good Post, Nando.

    The only thing missing, but which was not in the ABA stats I guess (I did not look at the source documents), is the rise (fall) of the average graduate's income over that time.

    Also, I'm wondering how long ago the average graduate's income began to trend downward. If it is a relatively recent occurrence, then it is not surprising that there has been no effort to curb new JDs and even an increase in applicants.

    If that is the case (recent downturn), then I'd guess that most people (ABA included) are looking at it as a normal part of the law employment "cycle," and that employment prospects and salaries are due to increase (and absorb the glut of un/underemployed JDs out there.

    A paradigm shift always catches most people by surprise, however. If that is the case here, perhaps you'll have a place in history as someone who saw it before the so-called "experts!"

    But I guess that doesn't pay the bills...


  2. What was the average salary or median household income in 1985, as opposed to 2008? (I was wondering when you would finally go after the ABA.)

  3. You laid this out pretty nicely. WOw - 43,588 law school graduates for 2008. Just think how profitable (sp?) this is for the law school industry. And then a new cohort of scam victims arrives every fall. What a financially-rewarding racket!

  4. I don't think the average debt includes the fact that a few people at every law school manage to pay their loans in full, which skews the average. I had 2 people that paid it in full at my school, and a bunch that had partial financial aid because their families were well-to-do. Doug cracks me up. He knows so much about the river... but still insists on jumping off the bridge.

  5. He's a fool. He confidently points out that the media will continue to glamorize lawyers and so people will always want to go to law school. Does the media glamorize PAYING for legal services?

    I predict that in three or five years we'll see sitcoms about unemployable grads, document review, etc. Just like nobody is buying "DOW 30,000" anymore or trying to flip condos in Miami. How glamorous will your unemployment be then doogie?

  6. Let’s not be too hard on Doug. Maybe he needs to see the numbers in action.

    I will address the second comment, in such a way as to illustrate debt prospects for pre-law students:

    The median in-state tuition amount in 1985 represented 7.6% of the median household income, i.e. $1,792/$23,618. In 2007, median in-state tuition would have consumed 28.5% of the MHI, i.e. $14,313/$50,233.

    For non-residents, in 1985, tuition at a public law school represented 20.3 percent of the median household income, i.e. $4,786/$23,618. By 2007, median tuition for non-residents at ABA law schools would have devoured 52.6% of the MHI, i.e. $26,432/$50,233.

    For those attending private law schools, the news is worse (of course). In 1985, the median tuition at private school would represent nearly 31.3% of the median household income, i.e. $7,385/$23,618. In 2007, median tuition for private law colleges would have taken up MORE THAN 64 percent of the median household income, i.e. $32,168/$50,233.

    Sobering, wouldn’t you say? Doug, are you following this?

  7. The MHI data from 1985 compared to today shows exactly how our generation has gotten the short end of the stick. An average home in most large cities costs somewhere between 250-500 (depending on the city). Even at the low end, the disconnect between price and MHI is disconcerting. And just think of everything else we consume. And, of course, Nando has shown how law school tuition (and this holds true for undergrad tuition) has also outpaced inflation by leaps and bounds.

    Simply put, past generations have really milked the cow for all its worth and we are left with the scraps and crippling debt if we even attempt to do some of the same things that our parents did 25-30 years ago. Shame, shame, shame.

  8. When I was getting ready to apply to law school, I talked to several lawyers. My problem was that I discussed this decision with older attorneys - people who went to law school in the 1970s and early 1980s.

    They all told me that going to law school was one of the best decisions they ever made. But then again, when they went to law school, tuition was a fraction of what it is today. Plus, the market was not nearly as saturated as it is today.

    If you know of anyone even contemplating this decision, refer them to these charts. Show them the side-by-side comparison of rapidly rising tuition with stagnant wages/household incomes in this country. If this does not dissuade them from committing economic suicide, nothing will.

  9. no mention of inflation ? it might not be as bad as suggested if taen int account the inflation over the past decade.

  10. I couldn't agree with 12:32 more. You all have to read ted turner's book ("call me ted").

    During that era you could actually land a part-time job and PAY FOR AN IVY LEAGUE EDUCATION YOURSELF WHILE ATTENDING SCHOOL.
    Just unbelievable, everyone has to read ted turner's book. Really opens your eyes to what a great land of opportunity america once was.

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  12. on nando's 12:32 tracking of median tuition against median household income, keep in mind that undergraduate and graduate tuition-payers do NOT constitute a fair representative sample. Presumably, undergraduate and graduate tuition-payers end up with a higher average earning potential than the overall population. You'd have to compare average tuition to average household income of degree holders in order for your reasoning to be sound.

  13. Great post, and I for one can't wait for the Top Law Schools crew to get anally raped by the real world of law.

    BTW check my new blog post on the solo practice scam now operating as Solo Practice University:

  14. To 3:47,

    Your presumption is not entirely correct. We have the most-educated populace in this nation's history, and yet our jobs are (a) increasingly low-paying; (b) demanding in terms of time commitment and productivity; and (c) not secure. Where is the pay-off for our supposed "investment"?!

    Tuition-payers also tend to have a lot more student debt to pay back than those not college-educated. I personally know several people with Master's degrees who earn $31K-$40K. (This includes JDs and MBAs also.) Carpet-layers and plumber's assistants can make more than that, and they don't owe deep six-figures in student loans.

  15. I'm curious why you think the ABA has some kind of stake in accrediting more law schools. The one thing I could think of would be membership dues, but the $25/year law student rate is often less than the cost of sending the students the magazines/journals/etc. that come with membership. And an unemployed lawyer certainly can't afford the high attorney membership fees.

    Why do you seem to think they make money off accreditation? If anything it's probably a lack of spine in turning down schools seeking the rubber stamp.

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