You chose law school for a reason

There’s a whole lot of talk about law school inflation —of job placement statistics, that is.

The ABA Journal’s Web site lists an Indiana University law professor’s comments, urging law schools to publish statistics that make side-by-side comparisons easier for “naïve law students.” The same website is abuzz with comments about so-dubbed “bogus” job placement and income statistics put forth by law schools.

The Wall Street Journal law blog recently interviewed a Boston University Law graduate who is on a self-professed “one-woman mission to talk people out of law school.” With $87,000 in debt, the woman says she is in a much lower-paying job than what she says she expected based both on conventional reason and on materials she says were provided to her before she enrolled in law school.

Another blog, titled “Exposing the Law School Scam” was created “by a coalition of lawyers” to discuss what they see as a “dramatic oversupply of lawyers, and how that oversupply has been caused by bogus employment and income/salary statistics used by most law schools to induce applicants to apply to law school.”

On the web, disillusion with law school debt – and ensuing lack of career choices – abounds.

I know of no “conspiracy” by law schools to inflate employment statistics, but the numbers listed by a law school may certainly be confusing and may be based on a whole slew of criteria, advertised or unadvertised. As a law student or prospective student, you first and foremost need to be able to decipher the numbers provided by a school.

Look carefully at employment statistics and don’t just accept numbers for face value. Try to find answers to the following questions:

•    Of the percentage of graduates reported to be employed, what percentage of graduates was employed immediately after graduation? What percentage was employed within nine months of graduation?

•    More importantly, of those percentages, what percentage of graduates was employed in full-time positions? What percentage was employed in part-time positions? What percentage of grads held a permanent job, and what percentage entered temporary or contract-based employment?

•    Just as importantly, what percentage of those graduates is practicing law? What percentage is employed in the legal field? What percentage is working in non-legal positions? What are those jobs? (As the Indiana University professor puts it, you need to know what percent of grads in “business” means driving a cab or waiting tables.) And, if applicable, what percentage returned to previous jobs or career fields after graduation?

•    What are some of the most prevalent geographic markets that graduates enter? Do those geographic markets comport with where you want to live and work?

•    What are the most prevalent fields, specialty tracks and work environments that graduates enter? Do those fields comport with your interests and career goals? Realistically, what are your likely lucrative career options after graduation? What back-up plans must you implement in order to make it?

•    Does the law school make available information about alumni who work in various fields? (As I’ve always said, any law school worth it salt will provide students and prospective students with contacts to alumni who can elaborate on their experiences.) What specific programs and services does the law school have in place to help students with career planning for various fields and work environments—not just the OCI process?

I’ve said this many times before in my books and articles: there are as many reasons to go to law school as there are applicants, but there are some wrong reasons to go.

DON’T go to law school, for example, because you’re lured by the prospect of making money: Most law grads will not get the six-figure salaries so often touted.

DON’T go because you’re trying to please someone else who thinks law school is the right path for you. Only you should make that decision.

DON’T go because you think law school will serve as a “default” option. With a grueling workload and rising tuition costs, you need to make sure you’re enrolled because you want to be, and because the law degree makes sense as a lucrative option for your future.

Law school, for many of us, was a rewarding experience that led to lucrative career options—attending a law school with a much lower sticker price allowed me to graduate with low student loans and take a job that I truly enjoy. As with any other graduate programs, for some others, maybe law school wasn’t the right decision.

But grumbling about conspiracies won’t help you, and neither will burying your head in the sand. Instead, you need to consider – realistically – all of the opportunities and options that await you and make informed decisions about your career choices.

You chose law school for a reason. Make sure it’s worth your while.

Ursula Furi-Perry, career editor for The National Jurist
 

Categories: 

Comments

So if I complain about how the law schools lie, then I am a conspiracy theorist, huh?

What about if I complain about how big corporations spends millions on lobbyists to control Washington, does that make me a conspiracy theorist, too?

Law schools have already been found to 1) hire grads for short term projects while conducting the employment survey and then count them as employed full time and 2) to record non-respondents as solos getting the average solo income and 3) the Texas State bar hired researchers to survey the year 2000 grads in texas and found that only about 65 percent had jobs six months out, while the law schools at the same time were claiming almost 90 percent employment at 6 months.

I guess I am just a conspiracy theorist, huh?

Right off the bat, you show your pro-industry bias. You twice refer to William Henderson as the "Indiana University (law) professor." You don't even name him in the article. What kind of journalism is this? If he shared your belief that, for many, "law school was a rewarding experience that led to lucrative career options," you would undoubtedly refer to him as Professor Henderson.

Your tone also indicates that you think it is okay for a law school to artificially enhance its employment and starting salary statistics. It is apparently up to the consumer/student to dig in to these numbers. Is the school to be held accountable at all? Or do you agree with the government's view that the US News & World Report rankings are to blame for schools resorting to questionable methods for getting more applicants?

Thanks for your article. And thanks for admitting that "most law grads will not get the six-figure salaries so often touted." You've denied that there is a conspiracy and since there is no proof, I'll accept your denial at face value and not as an example of the "lady protesting too much." However, would you please weigh in and explain how so many lower tiered schools report that their avg student earns over 100K? that seems to be at odds with your statement quoted above. While it may not be a conspiracy, either your statement or the employment stats are wrong. No publicly traded company could get away with this and neither should institutions of higher learning.

No one is alleging a conspiracy.

The allegation is that most law schools publish misleading and/or false employment statistics.

For more info, see:

http://blogs.wsj.com/law/2009/09/04/north-dakota-law-tops-harvard-in-us-...

http://thirdtierreality.blogspot.com/2009/11/response-from-sj-quinney-co...

Perhaps these are all careless errors. But isn't it interesting that all errors favor the law schools?

Good article, rn salary

This doesn't address the central, justified complaint of the law school scam blog, that essentially law school is a scam with inflated statistics.

All but maybe the top 10 law schools in the country should simply be shut down. Right now, with graduates given generous vouchers to retrain in other areas. This disgrace should not continue one more minute.

So what's your advice for the 75% of grads who end up outside the top 25% at lower tiered schools? Hell, it's not enough to be just outside of top 15%. Many of us came to law for the same reasons people should go: because we were interested in WORKING as lawyers. I know legions of graduates who are willing and able, who have experience and whose grades were good but not stellar, and as a whole they are shut out of this profession at every turn. There might not be an agreement among school administrators and banner carriers for the legal profession, but there certainly is no concern for the above average graduate at the above average school.

To all prospective law school students:

Please bear in mind that higher education in general, and all law schools in particular, are the next housing bubble. The housing crash should have taught you to be wary of any industry where cost always goes up year after year.

Simply put, the problem is easily available credit in the form of student loans. These unsecured loans are not dischargable in bankruptcy except in a vrey few circumstances that will likely not apply to you. Nor can they be refinanced at a lower rate after graduation. Consequently, education administrators increase tuition because they can and banks continue to lend because the student is signing a de facto indenture instrument. There is no market discipline in the form of bankruptcy protections to make the product (legal education) conform to current market demands.

As far as conspiracies go, consider that the chairman of the board of Access Group, a major provider of law school loans, is also the current dean of New York Law school. Look it up. Do you think a dean should also be a chairman of the company making money from student loan interest. Conflict of interest anyone?

the "conspiracy theory" bit makes no sense. No one is screaming conspiracy, only that law school throw prospective students under the bus by misrepresenting the opportunities a legal education provides. Being 60k in and hearing 3L's in the top 25% talk about not being able to get decent interviews, and yeah, anyone feels a little demoralized and taken advantage of.

You don't even contruct a convincing strawman, it's like watching foxnews.

The comments have summed it up quite nicely. My response to this article can be seen here. Let there be no doubt - law school is a one-way ticket to a lifetime of poverty.

My goodness, what a bunch of whiners all you commentors are. Boo hoo, we're not making the promised six figures we all naively assumed we would and we have debt up to our ears! And we can't find jobs! And, and, and, the law schools LIED to us!!! Or fudged their stats! Or whatever the newest sin is that they've committed. Who in the world told you all that life was fair or perfect or ideal and/or that you should expect it to be so? I can tell that every one of you is an entitled, upper-middle class, single person under the age of 30. Well, welcome to the real world of the early 21st century. Of any era, actually.

Instead of blaming evil law schools for not hand-feeding you reliable post-grad employment statistics, or complaining about how many of you out there want to "practice law" (whatever the hell that means) but yet can't find jobs, how about going to work to HELP OTHER PEOPLE WHO REALLY NEED IT with your law degree? Like POOR people, maybe. Or VULNERABLE people maybe. Or even "normal" people who can't pay $600/hour fees to some fancy corporate law mill. In other words, maybe not put your OWN inflated desires for the "good life" first, and start stepping up to be a voice for the voiceless out there. Start your own damn do-gooder law firm. If you're all so smart, you can all figure out how to do it. Check out probono.net. That will give you the bare minimum to get started.

And quit feeling sorry for yourselves about your colossal debt and the fact that you have to actually LOOK for a job like everyone else in this country who pays a fortune to go to a four year college or a professional graduate school afterwards. It's only money, for God's sake. You'd be amazed how well you can live on $60k, $50k, yes even - gasp - $40k/year, even with a six figure debt hanging over your head. All you have to do is stop focusing on all the standard BS about "job security," "financial success," "professional status," etc, and start thinking about how to benefit your community, society and neighbors instead. Trust me, you'll enjoy life more.

To the commenter below, you make some wild assumptions about the commenters. I was the first in my family to even go to college, let alone law school. My parents made very little income, and we got by on that. I live frugally. I did not assume I would make six figures out of law school. Most of the realists also did not count on six figures. Most anticipated being able to make a decent salary, such as $50K. We did not count on making $25,000 or $32,000. Or working for free, even after bar passage. Also, we know life is not fair. So I guess that excuses the blatant lies by the law school industry?!?!?

Your over-reaching conclusions ruin your credibility. Is this Ursula? Is that you posting as an anonymous user?

Me: married; lower-class (Americans all think they are middle class, don't they) as my debts exceed my assets and yearly income; in my thirties. You were wrong on all counts.

Is the assertion that law schools are producing too many lawyers ("rapid flow of attorneys into the marketplace") or that the lawyers they are producing are not adequately trained (lax accreditation)? These are different problems.Barber & Sims

Is the assertion that law schools are producing too many lawyers ("rapid flow of attorneys into the marketplace") or that the lawyers they are producing are not adequately trained (lax accreditation)? These are different problems.<a href="http://www.barberandsims.com">Barber &amp; Sims</a>