Friday, August 28, 2015

Steven J. Harper, Former Biglaw Partner, Notes That There Are Too Damn Many Law Students and Not Enough Attorney Jobs

Scintillating Op-Ed: On August 25, Steven J. Harper ripped into the law school pigs, in a New York Times opinion piece labeled “Too Many Law Students, Too Few Legal Jobs.” He comes out swinging. Take a look at this opening:

“Ten months after graduation, only 60 percent of the law school class of 2014 had found full-time long-term jobs that required them to pass the bar exam.

Even that improvement over the class of 2013 (a 57 percent employment rate) came with three asterisks: Last year, the American bar Association changed the job-reporting rules to give law schools an extra month for the class of 2014 to find jobs; graduates employed in law-school-funded positions count in the employment rate; and the number of jobs that require bar passage fell from 2013 to 2014. 

Amazingly (and perversely), law schools have been able to continue to raise tuition while producing nearly twice as many graduates as the job market has been able to absorb. How is this possible? Why hasn’t the market corrected itself? The answer is that, for a given school, the availability of federal loans for law students has no connection to their poor post-graduation employment outcomes. 

Students now amass law school loans averaging $127,000 for private schools and $88,000 for public ones. Since 2006 alone, law student debt has surged at inflation-adjusted rates of 25 percent for private schools and 34 percent for public schools. 

In May 2014, the A.B.A. created a task force to tackle this problem. According to its recent report, 25 percent of law schools obtain at least 88 percent of their total revenues from tuition. The average for all law schools is 69 percent. So law schools have a powerful incentive to maintain or increase enrollment, even if the employment outcomes are dismal for their graduates, especially at marginal schools. 

The underlying difficulty is that once students pay their tuition bills, law schools have no responsibility for the debt their students have taken on. In other words, law schools whose graduates have the greatest difficulty finding jobs that require bar passage are operating without financial accountability and free of the constraints that characterize a functioning market. The current subsidy system is keeping some schools in business. But the long-term price for students and taxpayers is steep and increasing.” [Emphasis mine]

In sum, the swine have: (a) continued to pump out FAR TOO MANY GRADUATES for the available number of attorney job openings each year, while (b) lowering admi$$ion “standards” further and (c) raising tuition rates to outrageous levels. What “honorable men and women,” huh?!?! They have been able to do so, because of the federal student loan system. Plus, the ABA cockroaches don’t give a damn about the students.

Other Coverage: On the same day, the Irreverant Lawyer posted an entry, which was entitled “Too many law students and the still unrestrained law school scam.” Check out the following portion:

“Harper, a former big law partner, has like Professor Campos, opined extensively on the same topics, including in his 2013 book, The Lawyer Bubble: A Profession in Crisis and more recently in his law review article, Bankruptcy and Bad Behavior – The Real Moral Hazard: Law Schools Exploiting Market Dysfunction. 

The themes are familiar ones, including the law school market dysfunction and how “Current federal student loan and bankruptcy policies encourage all law school deans to maximize tuition and fill classrooms, regardless of their students’ job prospects upon graduation.” 

And as Harper explains, a “law school moral hazard” has been created where having incentives to do so, persons take more and more risks because someone else will bear the burden of those risks. He says this moral hazard has combined “with prelaw students’ unrealistic expectations about their careers to produce enormous debt for a JD degree that, for many graduates, does not even lead to a JD-required job.” 

Meantime, as Harper and Campos are so good at reminding, for law schools this just means pay no mind as their beat goes on.” [Emphasis mine]

Steven Harper had a career in Biglaw practice. The man has impressive credentials and accomplishments. He doesn’t need to point out the fact that law school is a scam. Yet, he continues to barbecue the rodents to a crisp. It is nice to see men such as him and Paul Campos shine a light on the cockroaches.

Conclusion: In the final analysis, the law school pigs only care about one thing: getting their filthy hooves on big-ass bags of federal student loan dollars! The fact remains that these “educators”/academic thieves DO NOT GIVE ONE DAMN about their pupils or recent graduates. These young people are a mean$ to an end. By the way, it should have dawned on you during orientation. If these people love the “honorable profession” so much, then why the hell are they not practicing law for a living?!?! 

At this point in time, if you are still considering attending law school – and you have no shot at landing at places such as Yale and Stanford – then you are an ideal candidate for a brain shunt. Each year, ABA-accredited diploma mills KNOWINGLY admit too many students and pump out far too many graduates. Do you want to be another statistic, Stupid? Is it your personal goal to be financially ruined for life, for no good reason?


  1. Once you are in the legal profession, your options will disappear. You are likely to face abysmal job prospects for much of your career. That is even true for graduates of the top law schools. First year law jobs are not career-long jobs.

    You are only young and in a position to choose, once. Then your opportunities disappear. You won't be able to change things once you lose a job in mid-career. It is going to be too late to do something else, like teaching or health care, whee you can make a good living.

    Choose wisely. Avoid law school, even the top law schools, at all costs. If you go, you are playing Russian Roulette with your life. You will spend a huge portion of your working hours in front of computer, in a largely futile search for work while not earning any money. You are going to spend another large portion writing articles or networking, again not producing either legal work for you or money.

    1. It's possible to change. I've changed careers a few times (most recently into law, in my forties). The baby boomers tended to stay put, but Generation X and its successors cannot expect professional stability.

      But changing professions isn't easy—particularly for those who are tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt. Borrowing much more than $30k for law school is a bad idea.

  2. One thing that is really galling about some of the comments is to hear - get on with this and stop talking about the lawyer surplus. Well, people with law degrees have to live it every day. They have no other option, except to work in retail, or as a nanny or cleaning person. That is true no matter where a lawyer went to law school. Other respectable jobs are not interested in most lawyers, especially those with experience.

    The other thing that is galling is to hear that people who go to law school have unrealistic expectations. Someone who has a strong academic record and goes to a strong law school would expect to be able to work in a full-time, permanent job with benefits after having looked for work for a while. The reality is long periods of unemployment and underemployment for lawyers, and that most lawyers do not have employee benefits unless they pay for them themselves. The reality is also a large number of temporary jobs, with poor or no benefits, and no employment for a long period of time when the temp job ends.

    Outside of a small number of jobs, often for junior lawyers, legal employers are not looking for full-time permanent lawyer workers. Law firms, which have the largest number of lawyer jobs, are looking only for experienced lawyers who can bring in guaranteed dollars of work.

    If you look at the market for anything than other than sales jobs, you don't need to bring dollars to the employer to work.

    The legal job market is in complete disfunction from the federal loan program, and we talking hundreds of thousands experienced lawyers not being able to make a living with their law degrees, even from the top law schools.

    The median compensation, if you count the self-employed, is very far under six figures for a lawyer. The difference between the reality and the published data, which includes only those who are employees,is the difference between feast and famine..

    1. Well, most people do not go to a strong law school and do not have a strong academic record. Borrowing $200k to attend a non-√©lite law school does indeed reflect unrealistic expectations—or at least a lack of foresight.

      What's unfortunate is that people who do excel can end up with nothing but a mountain of debt.

  3. Your goal should NOT be to be financially ruined for life.

    Your goal should be to be financial secure for life.

    NOT attending Law School is only one step toward that goal, but is a critical, without-which-not, step.

    As has been written before, DON'T GO. The life you save is your own.

    1. Agreed. The first step towards earning that "million dollar premium" in life - I'll concede for the moment that this hype-line used to justify college is accurate - is NOT going into $200k-300k in debt starting out after attending law school.

      Money saved - not lost - is money earned.

      And yup! The life you save - may be your own.

    2. Even if there were a million-dollar premium, it would have to be discounted by the risk associated with it. The debt from attending law school is certain; the alleged premium from the degree is just a big if (to put it politely).

  4. This guy Harper is very sharp. His blog The Lawyer Bubble is excellent. Of course his observations are spot on. And it's correct to say that private law practice is more about sales and marketing than anything else. If you suck at that, or don't enjoy it, your only other option is a government job. That can be a good career but such jobs are a lot harder to get than they used to be.

    That said, someone in a bad job situation can change jobs/careers at any point although it takes time and work. But people can't lose hope because that is all that can carry you through rough times. If you are miserable where you are, for God's sake get out however you have to. Life is too short.

  5. What's overlooked is how short legal careers are. I've known HYS grads that worked Biglaw for a few years and then either quit or be let go. They land on their feet since they have a degree from a great school. I've seen too many lawyers try to make a go of it at small law and then quit after earning next to nothing. If law schools charged $10,000 a year no one would care. They could use adjuncts. Oh wait. The ABA says law schools can't. Never mind.

    1. THIS !!

      Notice how law always had historically high attrition rates?

      If you talk to the legal "elite," they'll say it's because lawyers get tired or don't enjoy the stress. That's total B.S. Legal careers last a short time because lawyers are un-employable after 10 or so years of practice.

  6. The cost is too high for what you get in return. Being a lawyer is now about the prestige equivalent of being a salesman. And now come to think of it they're the same thing. Shitlaw is all about selling yourself. I guess you have to distinguish yourself from all the other shitlawyers out there.

  7. My nephew's buddy has never recovered from the crash and burn of BigLaw in 2008. Kid was about six months in and was let go, and has never recovered. They're living with the wife's parents (yes, they still are). The problem with going straight to BigLaw out of school is that you typically don't learn there how to practice; when you get sh!tcanned, midlaw and sh!tlaw firms expect you to be able to handle divorces, DUI's, etc. and you have no idea what you're doing.

    1. What makes you think you actually learn how to practice law in small law?

    2. Oh, you can. I did.

      I didn't sleep well many nights, in the early years, (10 or 15 years) knowing my law school education did not prepare me for the hearing the next day, the irrevocable insurance trust a client wanted, the pleading I needed to draft and file, the outraged client in the reception area, and so on... and at 63, I am not sleeping well now due to practice stress.

      I would NEVER be a lawyer again, and my 3 children will NOT be lawyers. And they AREN'T!

      You call your lawyer friends, and you say: "I need a 'short course' on how to ……"

      (I usually preface that question with: "I've researched this issue at length and have come to a roadblock. I need some direction." (So your friend does not think that you are not unwilling to put out some effort to self-educate.") I have never called another lawyer for help until I HAD done that research.))

      And your friends will help you. And you had better be prepared to help them. And you should NEVER fail in that commitment.

      And that is how you make your way. Won't take you more than 10 years or so to become a lawyer. (Truly-and you thought law school taught you something useful.)

      And, you use your wits. They are not worth much in many legal analysis situations, but when your gut tells you something, call somebody. And you should talk to your lawyer friends who as uneducated at you, and they will help you.

      And ALWAYS end the phone call with "If you ever need my help, call me anytime, day or night." (And give them your cell phone number-they worry late at night like you do.)


  8. Harper is fighting the good fight, and a Biglaw partner speaking out against the poor state of the legal industry puts the lies of the scamdeans into perspective. The schools tell you that you will make so much, but it's time for a newsflash:

    Hey Lemmings, your future employers don't believe the propaganda for a second! Your degree doesn't impress them and you're totally expendable to the firm. DON'T GO TO LAW SCHOOL.


    On August 26, 2015, the National Center for Policy Analysis provided a synopsis of Harper’s article. It is also labeled “Too Many Law Students, Too Few Legal Jobs.” Here is the full text below:

    “Law school graduates are having a difficult time finding long-term employment in their field. Nevertheless, law schools have been able to keep raising tuition in spite of producing many more graduates than the market can absorb, writes Steven J. Harper for the New York Times.

    The main reason lies in the availability of federal loans regardless of the prospect of employment. Law school students now accumulate debt ranging from $88,000 for public schools to $127,000 for private ones.

    Law schools obtain a great percentage of their revenues from tuition so they have an incentive to maintain large student bodies but they have no responsibility for the debt the students have incurred even when the possibilities of finding a job are grim.

    These conditions have led to schools operating without any accountability and students and taxpayers bearing the price. A task force created by the American Bar Association suggested the following:

    • Require schools to share in the responsibility for repaying the loans.
    • Capping law student loans.
    • Even eliminating the federal student loan program in its current form.

    The task force, however, claimed that the market would take care of this situation and although enrollment decreased from 2010 to 2014, it didn't declined at a pace required to reach equilibrium. Instead, the task force recommended other less effective measures (such as offering better debt counseling) that will not solve this crisis.

    Unless student loans bear a realistic relationship to employment outcomes, law schools will take advantage of their lack of accountability and the legal education market will continue generating a supply and demand imbalance.”

    This helps explain why the law school pigs have continued to lower their admi$$ion$ standards. They are willingly accepting applicants that they would not have, in the past. Again, they simply want to grab more federal student loan money. The rats don’t care that their graduates take on huge amounts of NON-DISCHARGEABLE debt and face dismal job prospects. After all, the “professors” and administrators get paid up front, in full.

    1. "The market will take care of it" just means "Leave the scam in place".

  10. Law school is flat out a bad bet for most students.

    1. Yes, for most, it really is.


    By the way, here are some of the reviews for Harper’s book, “The Lawyer Bubble.”

    “The perfect book for a terrible time. If every Biglaw partner, law professor, and law school dean read this book and followed its prescriptions, we just might get our profession back on track…. Harper’s analysis is spot-on.”

    "An important and timely book..."
    --The American Lawyer

    "THE LAWYER BUBBLE is a must read for managing partners, law school administrators, and most certainly, prospective law students."
    --Everett Bellamy, former dean of the Georgetown Law Center, in USA TODAY.

    “Harper is a seasoned insider unafraid to say what many other lawyers in his position might...written with keen insight and scathing accusations…. Harper brings his analytical and persuasive abilities to bear in a highly entertaining and riveting narrative…. The Lawyer Bubble is recommended reading for anyone working in a law related field. And for law school students—especially prospective ones—it really should be required reading.”
    —New York Journal of Books

    “Anyone looking into a career in law would be well advised to read this thoroughly eye-opening warning.”
    —Booklist, starred review

    “[Harper] is perfectly positioned to reflect on alarming developments that have brought the legal profession to a most unfortunate place…. Essential reading for anyone contemplating a legal career.”
    —Kirkus Reviews

    “[Harper] burns his bridges in this scathing indictment of law schools and big law firms…. his insights and admonitions are consistently on point.”
    —Publishers Weekly

    “The Lawyer Bubble is an important book, carefully researched, cogently argued and compellingly written. It demonstrates how two honorable callings – legal education and the practice of law – have become, far too often, unscrupulous rackets.”
    —Scott Turow, author of Presumed Innocent and other novels

    It is great to see someone with his background tackle the law schools. He saw that his voice was needed. Hopefully, his work will dissuade many students from financially ruining themselves, in the pursuit of a garbage “legal education.”


    Check out this piece from April 21, 2013.

    "When I applied to law school in 1975, the nation was recovering from a severe and prolonged recession. Even so, I always assumed that I’d be able to make a comfortable living with a legal degree, although I didn’t think that practicing law would make me rich.

    Three and a half years later, I became a new associate at one of the nation’s largest law firms, Kirkland & Ellis. It had about 150 attorneys in two offices, Chicago and Washington, D.C. My annual salary was $25,000, which is $80,000 in 2012 dollars. There were rumors that some partners in large firms earned as much as ten or fifteen times that amount; by any measure, that was and is a lot of money.

    The unlikely prospect of amassing great wealth wasn’t what attracted me to the law. Rather, I saw it as a prestigious profession whose practitioners enjoyed personally satisfying careers in which they provided others with counsel, advice, judgment, and a unique set of skills. Mentors at my first and only law firm taught me to focus on a single result: high-quality work for clients. If I accomplished that goal, everything else would take care of itself.

    Today, the business of law focuses law school deans and practitioners in big law firms on something else: maximizing immediate profits for their institutions. That has muddied the profession’s mission and, even worse, set it on a course to become yet another object lesson in the perils of short-term thinking. Like the dot-com, real estate, and financial bubbles that preceded it, the lawyer bubble won’t end well, either. But now is the time to consider its causes, stop its growth, and take steps that might soften the impact when it bursts.

    The Lawyer Bubble is about much more than lawyers. It’s about a mentality that has accompanied the corporatization of America’s most important institutions, including the legal profession — a dramatic transformation that is still unfolding. Behind the change is a drive to boost current-year performance and profits at the expense of more enduring values for which there are no quantifiable measures. But omitting critical costs from the decision-making calculus doesn’t make them any less important or their damaging consequences any less profound.

    The Lawyer Bubble began to form when vital institutions — law schools and the American Bar Association (ABA) — abdicated their responsibilities in favor of misguided metrics and insularity. Law school deans are supposed to be the profession’s gatekeepers, but far too many have ceded independent judgment in an effort to satisfy the mindless criteria underlying law school rankings, especially U.S. News & World Report’s annual list."


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