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?