Friday, February 01, 2013

Law Schools’ Applications Fall, Tuition Costs Soar and Jobs Are Scarce

Having been trapped by circumstances in the legal profession for decades I welcome reports that law school applications are plummeting.  The truth is that there are too many lawyers and from my experience, many of the younger ones are only too ready to cut ethical corners in their quest to make a buck.  Such pressure, of course, often tracks back directly to the insanely high debts they incurred going to law school in the first place while career prospects have greatly soured over the last 5 to 8 years.   Many other attorneys like myself who have come to realize what a lousy profession they are in dream of somehow escaping the world of law.  It's not a coincidence that attorneys have among the highest suicide rates of any profession.  The hours are horrible, clients increasingly expect 24/7 service and the pay outside of the mega firms and ambulance chasing personal injury firms isn't what it used to be.  The New York Times has another article in its continuing expose of  the reality of the legal profession that ought to be read by every individual considering law school.  Here are highlights:

Law school applications are headed for a 30-year low, reflecting increased concern over soaring tuition, crushing student debt and diminishing prospects of lucrative employment upon graduation. 

As of this month, there were 30,000 applicants to law schools for the fall, a 20 percent decrease from the same time last year and a 38 percent decline from 2010, according to the Law School Admission Council. Of some 200 law schools nationwide, only 4 have seen increases in applications this year. In 2004 there were 100,000 applicants to law schools; this year there are likely to be 54,000. 

Such startling numbers have plunged law school administrations into soul-searching debate about the future of legal education and the profession over all.

“Thirty years ago if you were looking to get on the escalator to upward mobility, you went to business or law school. Today, the law school escalator is broken.”  

After the normal dropout of some applicants, the number of those matriculating in the fall will be about 38,000, the lowest since 1977, when there were two dozen fewer law schools, according to Brian Z. Tamanaha of Washington University Law School, the author of “Failing Law Schools.”

The drop in applications is widely viewed as directly linked to perceptions of the declining job market. Many of the reasons that law jobs are disappearing are similar to those for disruptions in other knowledge-based professions, namely the growth of the Internet. Research is faster and easier, requiring fewer lawyers, and is being outsourced to less expensive locales, including West Virginia and overseas. 

Last spring, the American Bar Association released a study showing that within nine months of graduation in 2011, only 55 percent of those who finished law school found full-time jobs that required passage of the bar exam. 

“Students are doing the math,” said Michelle J. Anderson, dean of the City University of New York School of Law. “Most law schools are too expensive, the debt coming out is too high and the prospect of attaining a six-figure-income job is limited.”

“In the ’80s and ’90s, a liberal arts graduate who didn’t know what to do went to law school,” Professor Henderson of Indiana said. “Now you get $120,000 in debt and a default plan of last resort whose value is just too speculative. Students are voting with their feet. There are going to be massive layoffs in law schools this fall. We won’t have the bodies we need to meet the payroll.” 

I feel some sorrow for the new attorneys who are finding themselves in a career nightmare.  If they are smart, they will find a way out of law early enough to find other careers.   For those of us older attorneys, we are sadly trapped unless we win the lottery.

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