The New York Times Exposes Law School Statistics

The New York Times ran an article on Saturday entitled “Is Law School a Losing Game?” chronicling the world of a recent law school graduate saddled with $250,000 in student loans and describes the questionable ethics employed by some law schools to receive the best possible U.S. News Ranking.  The article is a call for honesty from the educational institutions created to teach students how to be honest.  The article should also serve as a reminder that law schools must strive to add value to the J.D.

The protagonist in the New York Times story seems to be a tough sort to mourn based on his seeming lack of discretion despite debt fueled buying power, but he is likely a representative sample of the unemployed graduate population.  He represents the ideology that partially drives the law school engine: students naively believe that troubles – i.e., debt and jobless reports – won’t impact them.  This particular one believes that his debt will miraculously disappear.

He is not alone. As the article discusses schools feed on naiveté and manipulate the employment data prospective students access to choose a school.  So creates the problems of U.S. News rankings and the value of the J.D.  For example, our protagonist is a graduate from a 4th Tier school which currently states that their “employment after nine months” for their 2009 class is 92%.  Of course, 25% of those students could not be found and are counted as employed, even though it is understood that unresponsive students are generally unemployed.  The end result of the rosy outlook is the incredible growth in law school attendance.  “About 43,000 J.D.’s were handed out in 2009, 11 percent more than a decade earlier, and the number of law schools keeps rising — nine new ones in the last 10 years, and five more seeking approval to open in the future.”  It goes without saying that only the top tier schools may truly be worth the cost.

Certainly, honesty in numbers is important for students as they make their decision on whether to attend law school, but more can be done to provide greater value to the J.D.  Had schools provided students with the basic skills required to be lawyers, they may have been able to provide greater economic value to a firm and have an easier time finding work.  Of course, that is no guarantee in this economy where even profitable attorneys found themselves polishing their resumes. Another option would have been to become a pro bono attorney out of school.  They could have gone solo for some time and at least kept their skills up as they awaited a job, or maybe they would have found success without the baggage of insane billables.

3 Responses

  1. While the article’s exposure of the ways in which law schools manipulate the numbers is instructive, other points were indicated in the blog post that could also be developed. First, there are so many thousands, even hundreds of thousands of people with unmet legal needs because they cannot afford a lawyer. Recent law grads who, rather than wait for a big offer from a big firm, would instead hang a shingle and plow right into the practice of law by charging reasonable fees to community members, community groups, and others unable to pay large firm rates, would both develop their expertise and undoubtedly a love for how the law can be used to improve lives.
    Second, the NYT article barely hints at the ways in which law schools can assist students interested in engaging in a more locally-focused practice by offering scholarships and other cost incentives to those who pledge to return to their communities upon graduation. This could both help to minimize the level of debt assumed by so many law students and to ensure that more people will have access to legal services.

  2. 2 points:

    1. Doing pro bono work out of school does nothing to alleviate the debt most students are in and the other real-world problem of needing money for things such as food, rent, clothing. This is a totally unrealistic solution.

    2. Hanging out a shingle when you first graduate law school is another semi-ridiculous idea in modern times. Maybe as a graduate of law school in the early 20th century this would make sense, but since (as you acknowledged) most of what is learned in law school does nothing to prepare students for the practice of law, opening a solo practice as a new law grad is unadvisable. Once again you run up the problem of the debt you will incur in opening a practice, add to that the lack of clients, the likelihood of malpractice (because new grads have no practical knowledge) and you have a recipe for disaster.

  3. [...] has been covered extensively by other sources, so I’ll not delve into the flawed law-school supplied statistics or outright lies [...]

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