One of the signs that change is underway in the legal profession is that elephants in the room are becoming easier to talk about. One such pachyderm is growing increasingly obvious in legal education: the disconnect between what prospective law students imagine about the profession and what they eventually find when entering the legal workforce.
A good illustration is supplied by two recent items that zero in on the cost of a legal education versus the financial value it eventually delivers. One is an article in Forbes magazine, the other a post at the Tax Law Prof blog…
The average US law school graduate, Forbes says, enters law with $100,000 in debt; the median starting salary for the US law class of 2007, NALP reports, was $65,750, and nearly 40% of all starting salaries were below $55,000. Most American lawyers are saddled with debt for a long time, and while the situation isn’t as dire in other countries, rising education costs have been pushing it that way. You can have an argument whether the debt is worth the career it enables; the more pressing issue is whether law students understand the financial realities of a legal career.
Forbes writes about “the great college hoax,” drawing a comparison between professional schools and subprime mortgage hawkers: “Misguided easy-money policies that are encouraging the masses to go into debt; a self-serving establishment trading in half-truths that exaggerate the value of its product; plus a Wall Street money machine dabbling in outright fraud as it foists unaffordable debt on the most vulnerable marks.” A few law schools, the magazine reports, deliberately obfuscate the rewards of a legal career, but too many more finesse or downplay the reality of the debt versus the earning power of a law degree.
This is an embarrassment, said the panellists at an AALS [Association of American Law Schools] Committee on Research Program, the podcast of which is available at Tax Law Prof. The strongest words came from New York Law School Dean Richard Matasar: “We should be ashamed of ourselves. We own our students’ outcomes. We took them. We took their money. We live on their money …. And if they don’t have a good outcome in life, we’re exploiting them. It’s our responsibility to own the outcomes of our institutions.”
Then there is embittered law graduate nastiness, with self-defeating name-calling. Someone who describes his site as follows:
My goal is to inform potential law school students and applicants of the ugly realities of attending law school. DO NOT ATTEND UNLESS: (1) YOU GET INTO A TOP 8 LAW SCHOOL ON SCHOLARSHIP; (2) YOU GET A FULL-TUITION SCHOLARSHIP TO ATTEND; (3) YOU HAVE EMPLOYMENT AS AN ATTORNEY SECURED THROUGH A RELATIVE OR CLOSE FRIEND; OR (4) YOU ARE FULLY AWARE BEFOREHAND THAT YOUR HUGE INVESTMENT IN TIME, ENERGY, AND MONEY DOES NOT, IN ANY WAY, GUARANTEE A JOB AS AN ATTORNEY OR IN THE LEGAL INDUSTRY
Due to our collective efforts, law school enrollment continues to drop. Thank you for your help.