Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Law School Gamble - Playing With Loaded Dice

Looking at the ABA’s website, we can that total JD enrollment at ABA-accredited law schools came out to 142,922 students, for the 2008-2009 school year.

Now, go to the top 14 schools, as ranked by US News & World Report. Going off of the information listed on this page, we can see that the total, cumulative full-time enrollment – for the 2008-2009 school year - at these fourteen schools amounted to 13,708 students.

We are also aware that, according to the ABA, the number of JDs pumped out in 2008 was 43,588.

The NALP – with numbers self-reported and submitted by ABA-approved law schools – notes that there were 30,334 jobs where bar passage was required, in 2008. This PDF is part of NALP’s report entitled Jobs & JD’s: Employment and Salaries of New Law Graduates – Class of 2008.

Based on total enrollment of the top 14 law schools listed above, we can figure that these schools produce about 4,500 JDs every year. A few of these grads will elect not to sit for a bar exam, and some will fail the test. So, we will say that 4,000 JDs from these institutions gain bar admission. (Presumably, a licensed attorney who graduates from one of these top institutions can get an attorney or law-related position if he wants to do so – even if it is public interest law.)

So, that means that, for the Class of 2008, roughly 39,088 (i.e. 43,588-4,500) graduates of non-T14 schools competed for a paltry 26,334 legal jobs. This means that slightly less than 67.4% of these lower-tier graduates found employment where bar passage was required, i.e. 26,334/39,088.

Also, the NALP and the law schools do not take into account how many of these JDs ended up working in daddy’s firm. The schools also do not consider how many of these lawyers decided to hang out their own shingle. Here is something else to think about: how many of these grads are working as “contract attorneys” – reviewing documents in a basement at $20 an hour?!

How many are taking court-appointed work, practicing toitletlaw? (Remember, if you want to chase ambulances and fight over personal injury dreck, you still need a law license.) How many of these law grads are making a salary sufficient to reasonably pay back their student loans?

If you are even thinking about going to law school, you need to look at these numbers. Very few people will get Biglaw jobs. White shoe firms and top government agencies want those with the right pedigree and prestige on their staff. If you attend a TTT and are not well-connected, you will absolutely need to SMASH you legal studies, i.e. land in the top 1-5% of your class with law review – just to get noticed by such large firms.

You will need such a salary to be able to pay back your immense student loans, without too much stress on your finances and lifestyle. Plus, many do not last long in these HIGH-stress work environments. Looking at the insane billing requirements, can you see why so many who leave Biglaw after 2-5 years?

You need to look at law school SOLELY as a financial decision! If you want to represent poor people, go into social work. If you want to “save the world,” join the Sierra Club. You don’t need to go $130K in debt to do these things.

We are witnessing a fundamental re-structuring of the American economy. Scale back your expectations. Your sister purchased a $450,000 McMansion, and she and her husband both have newer, luxury vehicles? They also put their kids in expensive private schools, you say? (Let me guess. She makes $32K and her husband makes $38K pre-tax?) Well, DO NOT emulate the fools. Rent or purchase an affordable home, buy used cars that look nice and run well, and cut back on all unnecessary expenses - such as law school.

Optimism is unwarranted, for the following reasons: (a) American law firms are now able to hire foreign lawyers and non-lawyers for doc review projects – see ABA “Ethics” Opinion 08-451; (b) technology has allowed laypersons to sufficiently navigate their way through various legal matters; (c) the lawyer market has been oversaturated for decades; (d) the ABA continues to approve any fifth-rate law school that submits an application; and (e) recent JDs are graduating with more levels of non-dischargeable student debt than ever before – while facing shrinking employment prospects!

If your spouse, friends or family push you to go to law school, tell them to pay for it – i.e. your tuition and living expenses. Otherwise, they have NO RIGHT to say a word about this venture. Remember, YOU will be the one paying for this decision for the next 30 years.

Given these odds, are you prepared to roll the dice?


  1. PLus, the kids at the top schools will land the few Biglaw positions. Those at lower-ranked schools will be scrounging for any legal work. Why borrow $100,000 to get a job making $40K? What reasonable person does that?

  2. So it's pretty much a 1/3 chance that you won't get a legal job at all, and you can raise that percentage much higher if you take into account part time jobs, doc review and ambulance chasing, among other things, which aren't really "work" and which pay pathetic amounts of money with few opportunities to advance.

    I'd estimate that it's at best a 50-50 shot for non-T14s, and even that is probably a high estimate in favor of it. Still, at 50-50 that'd at least caution more people away than the ridiculous numbers the law schools report.

  3. of course the 30K jobs filled by grads is the big lie. I have already showed that given average age of retirement at 66 and given that the govt stats show that there was only 0.8 percent growth in the 750K lawyers working as lawyers, that this number is less than 25K.

  4. Yeah, things look dismal, but I do wonder how much significance people will give to financial advice coming from someone in their late 20s or even in their 30s living in their sister's basement.

  5. Look at the lemmmings who learn the law from guys who practiced law for 8 minutes 13 seconds. And they charge a helluva premium on that education. Overall, it's a good racket. During the apprenticeship era, the mentors were actual legal practitioners.

  6. At 5:08,

    Job prospects are pretty dismal. If you look at my blogroll, you will see people who excelled at TTTTs and got nothing but a lousy degree. You will also see some who went to T14 schools, worked in Biglaw, and are now working doc review. Look at the comments also. You will see people who worked their asses off, and were left holding large, non-dischargeable debt – with little chance of paying it back.

    The law schools put out fabricated statistics – with the intent of attracting more applicants and students. What would you call that? Integrity?! Please grow a spine, and quit spreading/propagating the industry’s lies.

    We are simply trying to warn prospective law students not to make this poor decision. The reality of the situation is this: if you are not seriously connected or independently wealthy, then law school is indeed a serious gamble. The house wins, as the law schools get paid up front – with federal tax dollars, no less.

    And for your information, I no longer live in my sister-in-law’s basement. She was nice enough to let us stay with her for a few months. But we now have our own place. Thanks for your feigned concern. And thanks for trying to cloud the issue, apologist.

    Don’t forget: there are tons of law students who end up relying on the goodwill of their family and friends, upon the completion of their “legal studies.” What does that say about the industry?! It tells me – and anyone else with a functioning brain - that the schools are pumping out way too many JDs. Just look at the industry’s numbers. I didn’t make these figures up. I am simply using them to smack the industry over the head with.

    Look at the economic study of choosing to attend law school by Vanderbilt Law professor, Herwig Schlunk. According to his analysis, law school is a bad financial decision for most students.

    Even industry rags/pawns and the ABA are now conceding this point, i.e. that you should NOT expect a positive return on your "investment”. Just look at the number of TTTs – and second tier sewers - pushing “public service” down their students’ throats.

  7. Why no picture of a trash heap, or a backed up toilet? These employment figures put out by the law schools are the biggest turd of all.

  8. What shocks me is that no school has been sued given the lies that their employment statistics contain...

  9. At 10:50,

    Look up Todd Bank v. Brooklyn Law School.

    The plaintiff sued Crooklyn under the RICO statute. He also alleged that the school's starting salary figures were false or misleading. Unfortunately, the suit did not survive the school's motion to dismiss.

    97-CV-7470 (JG)


    2000 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 16180

    OVERVIEW: Plaintiff read in U.S. News & World Report that the class of 1992 graduates of defendant law school working in the private sector earned an average of $ 60,328. Based in part on that information, plaintiff attended defendant school. Plaintiff claimed that the $ 60,328 figure was false and misleading. Plaintiff filed a complaint that charged, inter alia, that defendant violated the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), 18 U.S.C.S. § 1961 et seq., in association with other entities and individuals. The RICO claims were dismissed for failure to adequately plead a RICO enterprise. Plaintiff failed to plead participation in the operation or management of the enterprises claim. The claim was also dismissed because it was not sufficiently pleaded. Plaintiff's conclusory allegations failed to establish any conscious behavior giving rise to an inference of fraudulent intent. Further, the allegations failed to show that a conspiracy existed. Nor was there any basis to retain jurisdiction over the other state law claims.

  10. I feel completely broken.

  11. Milhouse Van HoutenMarch 29, 2010 at 5:35 PM

    the house ALWAYS wins.

  12. I teach a writing course at a "second tier" law school. I have inculcated the forced curriculum with a lecture on how to do well in law school and how to network while in law school to get a job upon graduation. I don't know if it's me or if it's them, but I fail to get an overtly positive response from any but the more saavy among the students.

    Unfortunately, kids are still operating under a false belief of, "ok, I graduated, now where's my 100K+ job", regardless of their grades/experience/acumen.

    It's quite sad, really. I thought that upon taking this position that I would be able to assist these kids but I feel more and more like I am just compounding the problem. Trust me, I do not do it for the money or the free Westlaw. But these kids seem to look at me as if I'm the schmuck.

  13. @8:44 - at my school it's more like "I graduated top 5% of my class, I would do anything for a 35k job." oh, and yes, the school is accredited. There r no legal jobs for most of these kids. NOTHING. Don't u get it? Maybe the ABA will accredit another law school nearby so a couple of them can teach legal writing too; surely, that would address the underlying issue.

  14. This calls for a rebellion. I don't think enough radicals go to law schools or become lawyers. Otherwise, you could start joining up w/more people & start civil unrest. If you're unemployed or miserable (assuming you don't have kids), why not? Maybe even join some of the local bar associations & taking BigLaw assholes to task. I'd find that kind of amusing to watch & I'm sure it might throw a few people, huh?

  15. To Film Co. Lawyer,

    I have contacted SEVERAL law professors and deans via email and phone – and offered to debate them on the shrinking legal job market. NO TAKERS so far; what a big surprise, huh? Apparently, these Ivy League-educated academics are unwilling or unable to discuss this issue. Perhaps, they are too busy drafting law review articles on animal husbandry to discuss the plethora of unemployed lawyers in this country.

    Likewise, I have contacted media outlets, including National Jurist and the National Law Journal, and asked if they are willing to put together a panel of law school deans, profs, admissions officers, myself and other scam-bloggers. These editors and reporters have told me that they can’t put something like that together.

    Seeing that these “legal scholars” are too afraid to debate this issue, more of us need to crash law school fairs, distribute fliers to prospective law students, write letters to the editor, make Youtube videos documenting the racket, and stage protests in front of law schools – in order to get their attention. These gutless wonders, armed with ample free time on their hands, are only able to post anonymous comments on blogs, defending the industry.

    What does that tell you? If these people went to elite schools, and excelled academically at those institutions, why are they unable to debate a TTT grad? Could it be that the facts so clearly show that the ABA approves too many law schools – and that the law schools pump out way too many JDs?! Perhaps it has something to do with the misleading and inaccurate employment and starting salary figures put out by the law schools?

  16. I've attempted to call attention to the problem by posting messages on the Facebook group pages of my local Chicago TT/TTT's. Every time, without fail, I'm rebuffed by the group admins for posting "abusive material." I'm considering donating a chunk of my free time and showing up outside of each school during their information sessions (the schedules are easily accessed on the web) and handing out pamphlets. If the effort saves one lemming from a lifetime of poverty and indentured servitude to Sallie Mae and their ilk, I'd consider that a success.

    Here's a question that made it to Jeffery Goldberg's "What's Your Problem" column of this month's Atlantic Monthly:

    "I am in my first year of law school (Ivy League). But the stories from the trenches are horrendous. Recent graduates are telling us that there are no jobs, and that when someone finds a job, it comes with no security. Should I cut my losses and get out now?"

  17. Nando--At my alma mater, an STT (Second Tier Trash), they have been hiring top 10 law grads with 0-3 years experience as Assistant Professors since I graduated. Now the faculty is populated by inexperienced (practically speaking), blatantly liberal, "Constitutional scholar" types (whatever the hell that means) effecting a ruse on the student population year over year.

    The Dean is ambivalent toward these PC Zombie Professors but I, as an alum, have vowed to never give them a red cent, as the school has turned left of center on me in less than 10 years. Moreover, they pump out 400+ jobless stiffs every summer solstice and let the next group in to rewind the conveyor belt for the next year. All so some self-important mindless "Constitutional Scholars" can run around with "Professor" in their title to act cool at cocktail parties and kids' soccer games with their dazzling interpretation of how Justice Thomas is underqualified but Barack Obama isn't.

    Forget Bernie Madoff. Law School is the real scam of the century. This century, anyway.

  18. To the writing prof:

    You should like a decent person. But with all due respect, is it possible that the reason the kids think they'll get those great jobs is because that's what your school implies?

    Have you taken a look at your school's employment stats? Do they claim that 99% of your grads are employed within 9 months making an average of 70-80k? Or something similarly unbelievable?

    Well, most likely, that's where the hubris is coming from. If the schools stopped manipulating their data then maybe your students would be more responsive.

    But then again, you'd also have fewer students. And we can't have that now can we?

  19. Trends, folks. Change will have to come in one way or another. There are too many highly educated people who are finding out they've been screwed for the situation to just blow over. The economic situation is too bad for everyone to sit back and say "oh well". There's bound to be some unrest.

    The power brokers should have thought about this before they created the education bubble... but then again, they were too short-sighted to see that their grand schemes were bubblicious.

  20. @ 8:22 --

    This is the decent person law school writing professor speaking. I have not looked into the employment claims of the school but have little doubt they are inflated.

    However, assuming you attended law school, you would undoubtedly agree with the following statement. Having viewed the student population as both a student and now as a Professor, I can honestly say that there exist a segment of the student population which deems itself to be "better" than other folks merely based upon their perceived status as "future" lawyers, as if that is some sort of accomplishment. They have little realization that graduation from law school in and of itself amounts to very little in the grand scheme of things. Whether that misperception arises from administrative fallacies or from innate social inadequacies is anyone's guess. It's perplexing that in my "second" tier law school, *some* of my students display this arrogance. I will say that *most* of my students appear to understand or at least act like they understand the harsh realities of the current environment, for there is no way to truly understand these truths until one has struggled to obtain employment after a layoff, as I have and as many of you have.

    My underlying point is that some students live in a self-imposed dreamworld, others in a law school faculty-enabled dreamworld. Both are destructive. I'll add that 80-85 credits for law school is a joke and the law school curriculum should be dramatically truncated and geared toward transactional versus litigation. The current system is unworkable and unsustainable.

  21. Always remain optimistic. The ABA has some job suggestions for us. Check them out.

  22. Kids, time for a quick survey. What would you rather be:

    a) An unemployed lawyer with no marketable skills (poli sci, history, philosphy, art majors)
    b) An employed lawyer who is miserable working 80 hours a week for a low six figure salary while struggling to make ends meet paying off six figure non-dischargeable student loan debt
    c) A plumber that makes $150.00 an hour to deal with shit clogged pipes, works his own hours, has no student loan debt, does not work weekends and is a happy fella.

    You don't need to be an LSAT wizard to take this survey.

  23. Personally, I think anyone who thinks they are going to be guaranteed a job when graduating from any school is a fool. And frankly I think Mr. Blogger is one of those individuals who thought life should be just handed to him and it wasn't and now it is everyone fault. It may just be that people can see through you and realize how much a loser you are and really are saving themselves from having someone like you work for them. This is how your about me should read:

    I am a recent graduate of Drake Law School. I am employed in a non-lawyer position because I am so arrogent noone wanted to hire me. My goal is to educate people who are considering law school as a viable option because of course noone is adult enough to figure things out for themselves. Do not go unless you are FULLY aware beforehand that you may end up with six figure student loan debt and no job prospects as I thought I would be guaranteed a job and I was too dumb to figure out the numbers before starting law school and now it is everyone else's fault. Furthermore, you will find it very difficult to find work as a non-lawyer, as your J.D. will make you overqualified for most non-law positions, oh yes I am so overqualified but really it might be that I am such loser and employers have gotten smart and chosen not to hire me and now all I can do is blog to make everyone else look bad because I am super miserable.

  24. To the simpleton above,

    Nobody cares what you think, idiot. Get used to that fact of life.

    I apologize if you are sensitive to the facts. Law students figure that they will be able to land something, even if it non-legal employment. However, contrary to what the lying "law professors" state, non-legal employers see "J.D." on a resume and they freak out.

    Those employers figure that a law grad will expect big bucks; if these people only knew how desperate most of us are for gainful employment, they would not assume this. Also, companies want people with ACTUAL skills - or those who can bring in business. (Yeah, I know it sounds crazy, doesn't it, Lemming?) Many employers do not want a highly-educated "loser" hanging out with the rank and file. Perhaps, they think that such a worker will inform his fellow employees of how badly they are getting screwed over a coffee table. (If only employers understood that most lawyers and law students are flaccid "people pleasers" and sycophants.)

    Now, grow a backbone. It is not too late to stand up to your parents, and tell them that you do not want to go to law school. So what if mommy already sent in your seat deposit, cretin? It is better to be out a few hundred dollars than to spend a lifetime in debt servitude. Don’t you understand that – or are you COMPLETELY financially illiterate?! Perhaps, you are simply so committed to the idea of going to law school - no matter what - that NOTHING will penetrate your thick, dense skull.

    Also, take some grammar courses. It might come in handy, if you somehow land a law-related job. If you do, it would be due to strong family connections - it certainly would not be due to your (low) intellect, "winning personality" or business acumen.

    Now, have fun drowning in non-dischargeable student debt and working at Hot Dog on a Stick!


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